A boat without the sea, a book without footnotes

How can anyone not love footnotes? A book without them is like a boat without the sea, or like the sea shore without rock pools. I love the way that the text flows on relentlessly above, while down below there are little pools of facts, translations and references. I have happy memories of books in which the footnotes took up as much space on the page as did the main narrative or argument; and even happier ones of books in which quotations in the original Greek or Latin – or even Arabic – are included for our enlightenment. And i don’t read any of those languages.

Endnotes are an acceptable alternative if they occur at the end of chapters, but not if they’re chucked to the back of the book – and definitely not if, as in many such books, they’re so poorly labelled that it takes a near superhuman effort to find the note you’re looking for. Often it’s a struggle to even identify the chapter.

Whether you opt for footnotes or endnotes let them be real notes – not just dry lists of titles, authors and dates. Avoid ibid., especially in excess: it turns a forest into a desert. Include references to obscure books, always cite foreign literature under the original title and if necessary reference your references. If you are still unsure how to proceed, i suggest “The Vampire”* by Montague Summers. Some of my favourite endnotes** from this book include:

6 The night-fiend idlu lilî is the male counterpart of the Night-wraith, ardat lilî. Idlu is the word used for a grown man of full strength

48 This belief seems mainly confined to Elis. Curtius Waschmutt, Das alte Griechenland im Neuen, p 117.

55 I have used the “Nouvelle édition revûe, corigée and*** augmentée par l’Auteur.” 2 vols., Paris, Chez Debure l’aîné, 1751.

13 About £20

68 Occasionally attributed to G. W. M. Reynolds, who, however, more than once denied the authorship.

1 Πορευεσθε άπ’έμου, κατηραμέυοι, είς τό πυρ τό αίώυιον τό ήτοιμασμέυον τψ διαβόλψ καί τοις άγγέλοις αύτου****. Discredite a me maledicti in ignem aeternum, qui paratus est diabolo, et angelis eius.

How could you not love endnotes like these? Of course it’d be even better if they were footnotes…

* The most wonderful book on vampires imaginable (ISBN 1-85958-073-4, Senate).
* *Taken from different chapters of the book; hence the jumbled numbering.
*** This ‘and’ is in the original!
****The ‘Greek’ text is probably gibberish as i had to recreate it using the Greek alphabet symbols in Microsoft Word. Some of the letters weren’t easy for a non-Greek speaker to distinguish.

— For ‘B’ —

4 thoughts on “A boat without the sea, a book without footnotes

    • I thought he was an extremely prolific Roman author. Not just prolific in fact but a polymath: there didn’t seem to be any art or field of knowledge where he’d failed to make his mark!

  1. Footnotes can be really annoying if over used. They are indeed a desert of dry facts. I hate the ‘Ibid’ thing too. I particularly dislike endless footnotes in blogs. This is because blogs are not novels or wordy tomes. Blogs are short stories, tales, poems and sets of information given from the bloggers perspective. A good blogger should be able to reference within the article or blog itself so you don’t lose the flow when reading. I think the rule should be no more than two to a blog and only if absolutely necessary. Otherwise endless scrolling up and down occurs, which can be boring and cause a person to switch off!

    • ‘Hmm… should i block this comment?’ he thinks to himself 🙂 I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. I’ll do my best not to exceed the two footnotes per post, but really i can’t agree that there are rules for blogging. It goes against the whole spirit of the thing.

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