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In old books from the 16th to 18th centuries, the first word from the next page is often printed right justified on its own, at the end of the current page. It's not in every book of this period, but those that have them tend to show them on every page. This practice seems to have ended in the late 18th century.

A 1588 example shows a repeated that:

Hanging that

A hanging but from 1678:

second but

And a dangling fairs, from 1726:

dangling fairs

What was the purpose of repeating this word? My initial guess is it was to help the book binder assemble the book in the correct order, but it happens even with books with page numbers.

When did this practice begin and end, and why did it end?

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I have always thought - but I do not give this as an answer, it being just my conjecture - that it was to make it easier for a reader, especially when reading aloud, not to lose the thread of what they are reading. –  DaG Feb 4 '12 at 8:18
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I am studying an 18th century text for a class as a part of my degree and I noticed this oddity as well. I haven't been able to fine any information on the subject, save for this site, and I would like to add that I went through the same thought process. Is this phenomenon for book binding purposes? No… this has page numbers. Then I started reading it through and I realized that it was a very convenient reading aide. The part about pitch markers also makes sense and I would have to agree that it is definitely serving that type of a function in the text. –  user26936 Oct 5 '12 at 1:11
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Whenever I start reading texts from that era, I mentally trip on it a few times, but soon find that I miss catchwords in modern texts. I start using them to "hold a thought" while you move to the next page, automatically. –  Jon Hanna Feb 6 '13 at 17:00
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migrated from literature.stackexchange.com Apr 27 '12 at 19:09

This question came from our site for literary enthusiasts and those passionate about the written word.

1 Answer

up vote 23 down vote accepted

This is called a catchword, and was used to

help the bookbinder or printer make sure that the leaves were bound in the right order or that the pages were set up in the press in the right order

and also

...was supposed to be needed by the reader to make clear the connection between the two pages ; but the catchword is now out of use, and it is not missed.

Popular from all the way back in the medieval period, the practice faded from use with the introduction of industrial printing in the eighteenth century.

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5  
A similar practice in musical publications was called the custos; a mark indicating the next pitch at the end of a line. It has also disappeared in modern publishing; I think it would be missed if more people knew it ever existed. –  ohmi Feb 8 '12 at 0:18
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