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Talk to the editor, and show him what the options look like.
In this situation, you can't possibly win, so soomebody has to make a choice among bad options. Personally, I think I'd leave the "runt" (which is the name I've always used for what you are calling a widow). I don't think you'll find a style manual anywhere that says the last line must contain some minimum amount of the column width, and a runt often looks better than the alternatives.
You could also look into changing the type specs -- narrower or wider font, or adjusting the coumn width, but the odds that this will really solve the problem are pretty slim. You'll likely just end up moving the runts to different paragraphs.
Remember, editors, despite what they may think, are generally not experts in typography and may ask you to dumb things. Sometimes pointing out just how dumb can be a learning experience for them.
I've come across a reoccurring typography issue that I can't find the answer to online, or in the Chicago Style Manual... I work with math books so the text is extremely choppy; paragraphs are rarely over 3 or 4 lines long because there are a lot of examples, boxes with various theorems, properties, and definitions, etc. It;s not paragraphs of text like a novel. One of the editors I work with is a stickler for widows at the end of paragraphs.
For what it's worth (not much), a single word at the end of a paragraph is not a Widow. At least not according to CMS, and not according to me, and not according to anyone else I can think of (ha ha).
Traditionally, it was only a widow at the top of page. See http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/CMS_FAQ/Punctuation/Punctuation01.html.
I think that in Chicago 16, they got a little more flexible and said a widow could also be at the top of a column. I can't quite recall and I don't have a Chicago 16 handy here, only a 15. But not any paragraph.
This is a longwinded way of saying your editor's desire is not supported by the existing style authorities.
I realize that telling your editor that he or she is a maverick won't help you convince them that this is misguided.
I would tend to judiciously increase the right margin by hand for each relevant paragraph, if I absolutely had to deal with this.
OK, I'm just wrong. It doesn't help that we're mixing up widows and orphans, and Chicago doesn't say anything about non-page widows, only orphans.
orphan. A short line appearing at the bottom of a page, or a word or part of a word appearing on a line by itself at the end of a paragraph. Orphans can be avoided by changes in wording or spacing that either remove the line or lengthen it. Contrast widow.
orphan. The first line of a paragraph stranded at the bottom of a page or column. An orphan can be avoided by changes in wording or spacing to the text that precedes it. Contrast widow.
I feel like the window has been blown out of my sails, but, err, well, Chicago 16 still doesn't call it an orphan (nor a widow). Go figure.
Thank you, everyone who's responded so far. I realize that I mistakenly called the last word on it's own line a widow instead of an orphan (or runt). No one tell my old typography professors...
I have Chicago 15 open in front of me. John has typed in the defintion of orphan, but I'm too poor a typist to quote wahtthe usage guide has to say, so I'll paraphrase. Never hyphenate the last word ( I guess they never met any REALLY long words in narrow columns, thoughthey would, I'm sure say the paragraph should be rewritten to avoid the problem), never start a page with an orphan line unless it is full measure, and never end a page with a widow line. Nowhere do they say a single word on the last line is unacceptable.
In situations that fall outside of standard guidelines, the one rule that I would try to follow is: Consistency. If I was commiting a style faux pas, at least be consistent for all occurences. But, in your situation, and I have been faced with the widow dilema, I think that you may have to consider each individual case and tweak accordingly.
And here is an article that shares your definition of widow
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I would go along with many and call this a paragraph widow (though runt will do). I was also taught this is a widow and column fragments are orphans. The standard rule is two words minimum and at least 8 characters. To fix you can:
1> Change the point size ±.5 pt
2> Change the set width ±3%
3> Change the word spacing making the desired less than 100%
4> Talk the editor into flush left.
5> Quit worrying about it. ;-) [which is considerably better than slitting your wrists]
I suspect the basic issue is: why do you want justified copy for such short paragraphs?