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When long words at the end of a line cannot be hyphenated (for example when hyphenation is suppressed with \mbox{}), LaTeX could either have the tendency to make lines overfull or the tendency to make them underfull.

Is there a way to define for a paragraph or a short block of text (in which I want to list some longer technical terms), that I prefer underfull lines?

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Use \sloppy before the paragraph and \fussy after the paragraph (leave an empty line before the paragraph before \fussy) –  Guido Sep 21 '12 at 22:16
    
@Guido: Thank you very much! That worked for me. –  Wolfram Sep 22 '12 at 18:50

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

Note that TeX will never prefer overfull that is always infinitely bad, however the default setting doesn't allow white space to stretch that much so if all options are infinitely bad, TeX may go overfull.

As @Guido says, \sloppy (or \sloppypar) is the classic LaTeX way to loosen up the white space, although sometimes better results can be obtained by instead setting \emergencystretch to a suitably large value (such as \textwidth).

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I'd still think that LaTeX has a preference for something it does, even if LaTeX considers it infinitely bad, as long as LaTeX chooses it over other ways to set the text. –  Wolfram Sep 22 '12 at 22:00
    
Thank you for suggesting \emergencystretch. I finally used that. –  Wolfram Sep 22 '12 at 22:00

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