Some authors divide sections of work with little decorations, most commonly three asterisks. In our markdown, we use three asterisks, too, and this converts to an HTML horizontal rule or <hr> element.

Here is a passage of text with a couple of these dividers in it. This is from Frederick W. Hamilton’s Division of Words: Rules for the Division of Words at the Ends of Lines, With Remarks on Spelling, Syllabication And Pronunciation. We’ve added the dividers. Sorry, Fred.


The idea that there is one right way to combine the letters representing a certain sound or group of sounds, that is a word, and that all other ways are wrong and little short of shameful is a comparatively new idea among us. The English speaking folk held down to a comparatively recent time that any group of letters which approximately represented the sound was amply sufficient as a symbol of the word. This sort of phonetic spelling was commonly followed, and followed with great freedom. No obligation was recognized to be consistent. In ordinary writing, such as letters and the like, it is not unusual to find the same word spelled in a variety of ways in the same document.

The last century has brought about an attempt to standardize spelling into conventional forms any departure from which is regarded as highly derogatory to the writer. In many cases these forms are fixed arbitrarily, and in some there is even now disagreement among the highest authorities. These difficulties and disagreements have two reasons: First, English is a composite language, drawn from many sources and at many periods; hence purely philological and etymological influences intervene, sometimes with marked results, while there is a difference of opinion as to how far these influences ought to prevail. Second, the English language uses an alphabet which fits it very badly. Many letters have to do duty for the expression of several sounds, and sometimes several of them have nearly or quite the same sound. For example, there are a number of distinct sounds of a, i, and o while g is sometimes indistinguishable from j and c from k. This is not always a matter of modification of sounds by the sounds of other letters combined with them. One has to learn how to pronounce cough, dough, enough, and plough, the ough having four distinct sounds in these four words. Each one of these sounds, by the way, could be exactly as well represented by another combination of letters which would be unmistakable, viz., coff, doe, enuff, and plow. It is impossible to tell except by the context either the pronunciation or the meaning of bow. If the ow is pronounced as in low, it means a weapon. If the ow is pronounced as in cow it may mean either an obeisance or the front end of a boat.

This standardization of spelling is unfortunately not quite complete, although nearly so. Concerning the vast majority of the words in the English language there is no difference of opinion. A few words are differently spelled by different authorities. There are seven of these authorities of the first rank, three English, Stormonth, the Imperial Dictionary, and the Oxford Dictionary; and four American, Webster’s International, Worcester, the Century Dictionary, and the Standard Dictionary. American printers may ordinarily disregard the English authorities.

Any one of the four American authorities may be safely followed. In cases where two spellings are given in the dictionary consulted, take the first one. Ordinarily a printing office adopts one of the great authorities as a standard and conforms the office style to it. All office copy will follow it and all errors in copy from outside will be corrected by it. Spellings differing from it will be regarded as errors, even though supported by other authorities.

This rule, however, is subject to one very important exception. The author has an unquestionable right to choose his own dictionary or to use any spelling for which there is any authority, English or American. If he has his own ideas on the subject of spelling he should be very careful that his manuscript is correctly spelled according to his ideas, and clearly written or typed. He should also indicate on the manuscript the authority he wishes used in correcting the spelling in case of mistakes or illegible passages. Every care should be taken to make the manuscript copy as correct as possible and as legible as possible. Such care may be very troublesome at first, but it will result in great saving of expense.

In addition to the authorities named there are the rules and “reformed” spellings adopted by the American Philological Association and published by the United States Government. These are followed fully in some offices, partly in others, and in many not at all. This is a question of the office style and the author’s wish. If copy is clear and spelled according to any authority, it is the compositor’s duty to follow it. If it is misspelled or illegible he is to correct it according to the office style unless otherwise directed by the author in writing. If furnished with such a direction he is to follow it. This procedure will clear the compositor of all blame. Any questions which then arise lie between the author and the proofreader.

In the case of the reformed spellings, however, the departure from the ordinary appearance of the words is so great that the author cannot be allowed full freedom to set aside the office style. If he is paying for the printing he may insist on his spelling. If he is contributing to a periodical and the printing is done at the publisher’s expense it is for the publisher to determine the style of printing to be used.

Any full consideration of the question of reformed spelling is hardly in place in this book. The author may perhaps be permitted one observation. Innovation in the use of the English language would appear to be primarily the work of scholars, and the adoption of such innovations would seem to belong to the book printer rather than to the commercial printer. The public mind as a whole is conservative. It is not hospitable to changes and does not soon become aware of them, much less familiar with them. The commercial printer makes his appeal to the mind of the general public. He will do well to use a vehicle familiar, intelligible, and acceptable to it.

Correct spelling is mainly a matter of habit and observation. To a certain extent it is a matter of careful pronunciation, but this is not always a safe or even a possible guide. The vowels preceding or following the one on which the primary accent falls, sometimes called obscure vowels, are so slurringly pronounced that even a pedantic precision will hardly make it possible to indicate clearly which vowel is used. The writer remembers seeing an examination paper written by a fourth year medical student in which the word fever was spelled fevor. A moment’s thought will show that so far as pronunciation is concerned the word might be spelled fevar, fevir, fevor, fever, or fevur without any appreciable difference. The correct spelling is merely a matter of observation.

The author has on his desk at the moment of writing these lines half a dozen good books, each containing a set of rules for spelling. From these it would be easy to compile a set of fairly good rules. Each of these rules, however, has exceptions, in some cases quite numerous. To remember these rules with their exceptions would be a considerable mental task and to apply them would be cumbrous and time consuming. The effort would probably resolve itself into an actual learning of the words which present difficulties. The best way to become a good speller is to form the habit of careful reading, observing the form of every word as it passes before the eye and so unconsciously fixing it in the memory. The dictionary should be consulted whenever there is any doubt.

If you are to write a word, call up a mental picture of it, and if the picture is not perfectly clear go to the dictionary and fix a correct image of it in your mind. Be careful to pronounce every word you use as correctly as possible and you will get all the aid pronunciation can give you. Careless speaking and careless reading are the two great sources of incorrect spelling.