Not much seen anymore, a catchword is a word printed at the bottom right hand corner of a recto page just below the last line of text. It duplicates the word at the start of the next page, and was placed there to enable someone reading the book out loud to turn the page without any hesitation in the flow of their recitation. Now that we all read our books silently we don’t need to care about performance values.

This example comes from La congiura del conte Giovanni Luigi de Fieschi printed in the 1620s in Antwerp.

Folger 197208. From the Folger blog The Collation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wonder if catchwords are ever found in children’s books, the one category of book which does still regularly get read aloud. I wouldn’t be surprised if catchwords featured in lectern Bibles, but I can’t find a photograph confirming this, and it’s been almost 60 years since I last had to read the lesson.

The term can also refer to a heading in a text, a catch line. It can also substitute for catch phrase with the meaning of a briefly popular expression. In the sense of a desirable attainment, a “catch”, Sir Walter Scott refers in St Ronan’s Well to a catch-match “She made out her catch-match, and she was miserable”.