So Mr. Hubert Wolfe+585, Senior, was giving us trouble last week. During the QA review for the ebook version of The Book of Word Records the longest name in the world quickly became our longest e-problem in the world. (Did you know he was a typesetter? I don’t know whether to scorn him or admire him.) Last week I posted screenshots of how his name rendered on ereaders. The name is so long that it is essentially one paragraph of unbroken letters. If you know ebooks, you know that the inconsistent rendering of hyphenation is a problem. In this case some ereaders didn’t render hyphens, some rendered hyphens for the last few lines only, and only two ereaders (actually, ereader apps for the iPad) rendered hyphens correctly at the end of every line.

The solution is to manually insert soft hyphens into the name (thank you India and Nick). Let’s end the suspense. Here are the before and after results:

HYPHENATION RENDERING IN LONGEST NAME IN THE WORLD (EPUB2)
Ereader Engine Hyphenation
WITHOUT soft hyphens
Hyphenation
WITH soft hyphens
Adobe RMSDK
Adobe Digital Editions v2.0 last line only all lines
Nook Color last few lines only all lines
Kindles (EPUB pushed through KP)
Kindle iPad App all lines all lines
Kindle Mac Desktop App no lines all lines
Kindle Fire HD no lines all lines, see screenshot
Kindle Paperwhite no lines all lines
Kindle mobi (in KP) no lines no lines
Kobos
Kobo Eink: Aura last few lines only all lines
Kobo App for Android no lines all lines, see screenshot
Kobo App for iPad all lines all lines
Web-based Ereaders
EPUBReader in Firefox word doesn’t wrap all lines
Readium in Chrome word doesn’t wrap all lines
iBooks word doesn’t wrap all lines

But now I had to figure out where to insert the soft hyphens. The first thing I did, for kicks, was to insert a soft hyphen after every letter in the name. This yielded the exact results I expected: it crashed ADE. (Yeah, ADE ain’t all that but usually if something crashes ADE, it will crash ereader devices.) I briefly considered going to my copy chief but then I thought I’d try a little sleuthing myself before my problem became her problem. I went to Wikipedia, copied Mr. Hubert Wolfe+585‘s name, and pasted it into Dreamweaver.

Wikipedia entry

Wikipedia entry pasted into Dreamweaver

Hyphens appeared in (what looks to me) appropriate places in the name! So I manually replaced each hyphen with a soft hyphen and ended up with 76 soft hyphens (down from the 589 soft hyphens after each letter).

Here’s the paragraph ready for prime time in Dreamweaver:

Dreamweaver with ­ inserted

And here’s the paragraph in a variety of ereaders:
Adobe RMSDK-based ereaders
Kindles
Kobos
Web-based Ereaders

Adobe RMSDK-based ereaders

Adobe Digital Editions v2.0

Adobe Digital Editions v2.0

Nook Color

Nook Color

Kindles

Kindle iPad App

Kindle iPad App

Kindle Mac Desktop App

Kindle Mac Desktop App

Kindle Fire HD

Note the space automatically inserted before the soft hyphens

Kindle Fire HD

Kindle Paperwhite

Kindle Paperwhite

Kindle mobi (Kindle Previewer)

Kindle mobi (Kindle Previewer)

Kobos

Thank you Laura Brady for the screenshots.

Kobo Eink: Aura

Kobo Eink

Kobo App for Android

Note the space automatically inserted before the soft hyphens

Kobo App for Android

Kobo App for iPad

Kobo App for iPad

Web-based Ereaders

EPUBReader in Firefox

EPUBReader in Firefox

Readium in Chrome

Readium in Chrome

iBooks

iBooks

Takeaway

So if you ever find yourself needing to split a record-breaking word give soft hyphens a try. One caveat: these are EPUB2 files and this soft hyphen is a named character entity, as Jorge reminds us:

Name_Twitter_AFTER

Is this solution future-proof and will it work in EPUB3? It remains to be seen.

UPDATE LATER IN THE DAY: Rick tells us that there is indeed a numeric character entity for the soft hyphenation character (remember that named character entities are not allowed in EPUB3):

Good advice

And I’m encouraged to put these into action by John:

More good advice

I put the numeric character entity to the test:

Name_ENTITY

… and the results in the table above are still sound. Sometimes it takes a village! I’m encouraged by this testing and, although this is a manual one-at-a-time process, this feels like one itty bitty step towards better ebook typography. Please let me know if you have additional devices you would like to see added to the table.

If you want to learn more about the history of soft hyphenation for the web then you’ll want to read this very thorough account. I found this paragraph particularly illuminating:

Conceivably, people want fast solutions to their problems. When we see the problems which arise from Web browsers using no hyphenation, we pay attention to the worst cases and wish we could solve at least them, and solve them now. The simple idea of giving an explicit hyphenation hint suggests itself. Several popular text processing programs allow you to enter “hidden hyphenation hints” that are normally invisible. This is probably how people started thinking that there must be a character for the purpose, and when one looks at the ISO Latin 1 specification, what else could one use but soft hyphen?

No, this solves nothing. But at it least sheds light on why browser hyphenation is such an issue.

Finally, on a lighter note, you can listen to Mr. Hubert Wolfe+585’s name pronounced here: