The language of typesetting has many anomalies that have survived the transition from the printer's block to the computer desk top. This unique set of words and phrases which relate to typefaces, punctuation, spacing and the use of margins, has remained in vogue thanks to the unison of tradition with technology.

Cats' ears and body parts such as chins and eyes are actually all attributes of letters. And like any language, these terms have been kept alive due to their constant use throughout the ages. As any Microsoft Office Word user will know, certain typesetting terms are still as common today as they were in the world before digitalisation.

Typesetting is about how written text is brought to life on the printed page. Hence what seems today to be a language composed of quaint expressions, relate to a world of print when text was set by hand using movable type. For example, the position where a full stop appears after the last word in a sentence is reliant on typesetting rules. These rules also determined the amount of space that an indent at the beginning of a paragraph would take (typically five spaces). Even the amount of space between lines, how far in the margins are from the edge of a page (usually an imperial inch), and other design elements are all reliant on typesetting parameters.

Now that many typesetting functions are carried out by anyone who can operate a basic word processing program, the words and expressions relating to this ancient craft may seem odd to our ears, but they are nonetheless still necessary in any environment where words exist to be read.

Today, we use these terms without too much thought. Most people are familiar with font families, for example. A font family refers to a group of typefaces with similar characteristics. For example, the sans serif typefaces Arial, Arial Bold, Arial Bold Italic, Arial Italic, Small Fonts, and MS Sans Serif are all part of the Swiss font family.

And the connection between typesetting terms and family members doesn't end there: most of us will have encountered widows and orphans in our text.

In typesetting, a widow is the last line of a paragraph, or a short line of text, overflowing to the top of the next page. An orphan is a heading or the first line of a paragraph or verse at the foot of a page. A good typesetter would always try to avoid leaving widows and orphans.

In order to distinguish between orphans and widows, the following phrases can be used as an aid to help remember: "an orphan has no past; a widow has no future". Another way is to think of orphans as generally being younger than widows; thus, orphaned lines happen first, for example at the start of paragraphs (affecting and stranding the first line), and widowed lines happen last, at the end of paragraphs (affecting and stranding the last line). Orphaned lines appear at the "birth" (start) of paragraphs; widowed lines appear at the "death" (end) of paragraphs.

Try to avoid both widows and orphans in any documents, as they break up the flow of the text and tend to distract the reader.

By default, the widow and orphan control is always selected to be on in Microsoft Office Word 2007. Word allows you to automatically control single-line widows and orphans in your documents. If you want to uncheck this option, click the Home tab and then click the dialog box launcher in the lower right corner of the Paragraph group. Click the Line and Page Breaks tab in the Paragraph dialog box to find the control.

Techniques which have been used - sometimes badly - to avoid widows and orphans include forcing a page break at a fixed position to produce a shorter page; adjusting the leading; and changing the spacing, or kerning, between words to produce 'tighter' or 'looser' paragraphs. You can also control widows and orphans by adjusting the hyphenation of words within the paragraph, or altering the page margins.

The easiest option is to rewrite the text to fit as this does not interfere with the alignment or spacing of the lines. An orphan can be cured by inserting a blank line or forcing a page break to push the orphan line onto the next page to be with the rest of its paragraph. Obviously you will need to review this type of forced spacing if you have to then edit the text and this affects the position of the line in relation to an automatic page or column break.

It's common practice in newspapers and magazines to work round text by inserting pull out quotes or resizing or moving images in the text area to create a better shape of words in columns.

There are many other techniques you can learn to deal with widows and orphans and even more typesetting topics such as feathering; letter spacing and legates; the use of non-breaking spaces; and how to correctly range and justify type. If you want to brush up on points and picas, find out about a course on Microsoft Word 2007 to learn about the history and meaning behind the language of typography.