Intuitively Obvious to the Most Casual Observer

Readable Man Pages

One of the weird things about typesetting is that if you don’t know what to look for, you won’t notice what’s wrong. Kerning is famous for this, but it applies to other areas too - if you haven’t learned how typesetting can be improved, you’re unlikely to realize what’s bothering you.

This happened to me today. Working with a large external monitor (something I don’t ordinarily do), I pull up the pacman manpage, and realize I can’t read a single thing written. I barely made it through the first sentence. It took me half an hour to realize the reason why: my window was several hundred columns wide, so that the first paragraph was but one line. Completely unreadable.

BSD man always formats to 80 characters wide, so you don’t have this problem, but Debian man (the version on most linux boxen, including ubuntu and arch) formats to the width available, whatever that may be. Fortunately, this can be overridden with the MANWIDTH environment variable - I find 96 columns to be optimal for text.