Index, A History.

Fara Dabhoiwala reviews for the NYRB (June 22, 2023 issue) Dennis Duncan’s Index, A History of the: A Bookish Adventure from Medieval Manuscripts to the Digital Age; here are some juicy tidbits:

Nowadays we take for granted that any kind of learned book should be indexed, however tedious the labor. So valuable is this tool, so central to our ways of thinking about and using information, that in the case of multivolume scholarly editions of texts, it’s not uncommon for the index itself to constitute an entire book. Yet in the classical world the concept of such a search aid was unknown. To Cicero, an “index” meant a label affixed to a scroll that indicated its contents, rather like the printed spine or dust jacket of a modern volume on a bookshelf. As Dennis Duncan notes in his clever, sprightly Index, A History of the, the rise of the index in its current form is a story of many interrelated developments, each with its own contingencies and chronology: the replacement of scrolls by the codex, the triumph of alphabetical order, the rise of new pedagogies and genres of learning, the invention of print, the adoption of the page number, and the constantly changing character of reading itself.*

Take alphabetical order. Even though the consonantal alphabet had been around since the early second millenium BCE, the earliest known examples of its application as an organizing principle date only from about the third century BCE. The now lost 120-scroll catalog of the Library of Alexandria listed authors partly in alphabetical order. That the ancient Greeks were fond of using it is evident in everything from their fishmongers’ price lists to records of taxpayers and monuments to playwrights (the background panel of one surviving marble statuette of Euripides lists the titles of his plays from alpha to omega).

Yet after them the Romans largely disdained the alphabetical principle as arbitrary and illogical, and so did Europeans throughout the Middle Ages. Books about words—like lexicons, grammars, and glosses—employed it, but it was not a widely understood rule. […]

The term “index” didn’t come to be used in its current sense in English until quite recently. There’s no entry for it in Cawdrey, while Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1755) defined it as “the table of contents to a book.” For centuries words like “table,” “register,” and “rubric” were used interchangeably for what we now call indexes and contents pages: only very gradually, over the past two hundred years or so, have the two forms come to be regarded as essentially distinct. (The related Anglophone convention that indexes appear at the back of books and contents pages at the front seems to have been part of a similar, relatively recent process of separating them.) Nonetheless, names aside, the alphabetical index as a type of textual technology turns out to be much older than that.

There are two basic types, which in modern books are usually combined into a single list. One type collates words, the other concepts. The former is a concordance, the latter a subject index. The first is the kind of literal, specific listing of entries that you can get your computer to produce by using CTRL+F for any word or phrase in a text; the second is the product of a more subjective, humanistic attempt to capture the meanings and resonances of a work. Duncan, understandably, is mainly interested in the evolution of the latter type—even though, because of the rise of the word-based online search engine, we now find ourselves living in a golden age of the concordance. But the two forms need to be treated together, he argues, because both were invented at the same time and place: in northwestern Europe, in or around 1230.

The index was, in fact, part of an entire range of organizational and reading tools that were conceived in the thirteenth century. (Others included the division of the Bible into standard chapters and the genre of distinctiones, a new kind of search aid for preachers that helpfully grouped together biblical extracts on the same subject.) […]

Soon enough, medieval readers were making their own indexes to volumes they owned. The invention of printing brought further refinements. Page numbers had already been used to number the leaves of individual manuscripts, but the uniformity of printed books gave them a different utility, as a means of referring to the same place across different copies of the same work. It took time for this idea to catch on. The first printed page number was not produced until 1470; even by 1500 only a small minority of books had adopted the practice. Instead, early printed indexes referred to textual locations or to the signature marks at the bottom of pages (“Aa,” “b2,” and the like), which printers and binders used to keep their finished sheets in the correct order. But in the course of the sixteenth century, use of the page number spread, alongside the creation of increasingly sophisticated indexes by scholarly authors.

As early as 1532, Erasmus published an entire book in the form of an index because, he quipped, these days “many people read only them.” […]

Like every widely observed change in reading and learning habits before and since (the invention of writing, the launch of Internet search engines, the spawning of ChatGPT), the spread of the index was accompanied by anxiety that flighty, superficial modes of accessing information were supplanting “proper” habits of reading and understanding. In the sixteenth century Galileo complained that scientists seeking “a knowledge of natural effects, do not betake themselves to ships or crossbows or cannons, but retire into their studies and glance through an index or a table of contents.” To “pretend to understand a Book, by scouting thro’ the Index,” jibed Jonathan Swift in 1704, was the same “as if a Traveller should go about to describe a Palace, when he had seen nothing but the Privy.” Yet as Duncan wisely points out, our intellectual habits are always changing, and for good reason. Every social and technological shift affects how we read—and we also all read in many different ways. Twitter, novels, text messages, newspapers: each demands a different kind of attention. The older we get, the more invested we are in modes of reading that we’re familiar with and the more suspicious of technologies that seem prone to disrupt them.

The eighteenth century produced a great efflorescence of indexing novelties, jokes, and experiments, which Index, A History of the has great fun cataloging. For a while it seemed as if indexes might become part of almost every genre of writing, including epic poetry, drama, and novels; the inclusion of an index had become a literary status symbol, a sign that a text was prestigious or that a book had been lavishly produced. […] In the 1750s Samuel Richardson produced an eighty-five-page index to his enormous novel Clarissa. (It included its own index to the index.) This wasn’t really a reference for the main text, but more like a summary of the moral lessons contained in the original, seven-volume, million-word monster of a book. […] But Richardson, who started out as a printer, was an outlier in his love of indexing (he also later produced a huge unified index to all three of his novels), and this proved to be a largely abortive branch of literary evolution. After all, names and facts are rather easier to index than thoughts and feelings.

Instead, by the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the textual forms of fiction and nonfiction had grown increasingly distinct. The latter were ever more energetically and impressively indexed. […] Toward the end of the century, librarians from around the world combined forces to produce a universal, international index of all the most important books and knowledge in existence—as well as, on a more modest but still extraordinary scale, the first global indexes to the flood of periodical publications. In modern fiction, on the other hand, indexing by this time largely appeared only as a literary conceit: a play on genre, fictionality, and facticity. Both Vladimir Nabokov and J.G. Ballard wrote stories that used the index form (in both of which the last entry, at the end of the Z’s, reveals a final twist of the plot).

The review concludes with some edifying anecdotes about women (indexers have been largely female) getting fed up with being condescended to and treated shabbily:

In the mid-1970s the new lead author of America’s standard textbook on obstetrics, Jack Pritchard, asked his wife, Signe, to prepare the index for him. They had been married for thirty years. She was a nurse, a mother, and a feminist who had recently changed her title to “Ms.”; his textbook was suffused with attitudes toward women and their bodies that evidently infuriated her. When the index appeared, it turned out that she had included the line “Chauvinism, male, variable amounts, 1–923” (i.e., on every page of the book). Four years later, for the next edition, she improved this to “Chauvinism, male, voluminous amounts, 1–1102” and added, for good measure, another judgment on the whole enterprise: “Labor—of love, hardly a, 1–1102.”


  1. the earliest known examples of its application as an organizing principle date only from about the third century BCE

    The book of Lamentations, probably from the 6th century BCE, uses acrostic verse based on the order of the alphabet. It even uses a pre-exilic alphabetical order, pē before ‘ayin. But maybe that doesn’t quite count as a counterexample.

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    There are also some dozen acrostic Psalms, notably

  3. I greatly respect the labor of skilled indexers. However (and they are not to blame), the most common form of the index is a PITA, where you have a list of 5 or 10 or 20 page numbers or to go through, one by one, to see if they are useful or not. Hints like italicizing are helpful but insufficient. Detailed indexes, which explicitly hint at the context of their referents, are understandably but sadly rare.

  4. DE: I don’t know much about dating the Psalms. I think it’s complicated. I mentioned the book of Lamentations because its date is better defined, from what I understand, and I wanted a neat date to quote.
    That said, the acrostic Psalms might be from about that time, too.

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    the most common form of the index is a PITA

    Sad but true. Another annoying constant in more recent volumes of the Mouton Grammar Library. The indexes are largely useless. You’re better off looking through the Contents (which, to be fair, tend to be very detailed.}

  6. David Marjanović says

    The related Anglophone convention that indexes appear at the back of books and contents pages at the front seems to have been part of a similar, relatively recent process of separating them.

    By now that’s universal, but into the mid-20th century many books had their table of contents at the end.

    pē before ‘ayin

    P before O!?! That’s not merely pre-exilic!

  7. It seems fitting that, of all novels, Clarissa should have an explanatory index, is if Samuel Richardson wasn’t content to let the extensive, explicitly moralizing commentary speak for itself. He certainly wasn’t willing to let the story speak for itself, so why not add yet another layer of meta- sermonizing?

    In fairness, I have read nowhere near all of Clarissa. It’s possible the book is not all like that but I very much doubt it. This reminds me, incidentally, of another explanatory appendix (which I have refused to read) of a major work of fiction, The Sound and the Fury, a true (albeit still flawed) masterpiece⁠—unlike Clarissa, which is remembered more for historical reasons. For later editions, William Faulkner included a narrative appendix, explaining what was going on with the Compson family, presumably for the benefit of those who got to the end but still hadn’t figured out what Benji and Quentin had been free associating about. There are at least three reasons why I have never looked at it. I had already figured out the whole story by the end of the original text (in spite of Faulkner’s occasional cheats*), so it seemed superfluous. I also just generally dislike it when authors change their already-published works; I think fiction should stand on its own and not be messed with, and in any case the changes are frequently for the worse.** For The Sound and the Fury specifically, I already felt that Faulkner had been too explicit in the last of the original novel’s four parts, by making it omnisciently narrated, rather than by Dilsey.*** An appendix fron an even more abstract viewpoint had no appeal to me.

    * Most obviously, the assignment of names to the various characters is neither one to one, nor onto. This is never done completely with a narrative justification, but it seems that Faulkner mostly included the naming ambiguities as a cheap way of making Benji’s and (the elder) Quentin’s narrations even harder to follow.

    ** The most recent example I discovered of this was that “Black Amazon of Mars” by Leigh Brackett was much better than the extended version People of the Talisman. There are some minor continuity errors in the novel version, but even apart from that, a lot of the added material is uninspired. (Some blame that on Brackett’s husband Edmond Hamilton, but there doesn’t seem to be any dispositive evidence of his involvement.) The completely rewritten ending (with a totally different race of evil aliens, who have totally different goals) does introduce a couple of interesting and clever ideas, but I actually prefer the original enemies, which were less creative but better written.

    *** The omniscient viewpoint is a cop out, although of a common literary type. As the end of a work draws near, sometimes the creator decides that they need a more authoritative narrator to make their point convincing or to bring in information that is important, but which the viewpoint character would not know. Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita eventually decides that his arguments for duty are not sufficiently convincing and just displays his divine power to Arjuna.

  8. “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? tell me if thou hast understanding.”

  9. Chris Stokes says

    DM: By now that’s universal [‘the Anglophone convention that indexes appear at the back of books and contents pages at the front’] but into the mid-20th century many books had their table of contents at the end.

    Isn’t it normal in France for the table des matières to appear at the back, even when there’s a less detailed sommaire at the front?

  10. In Russia, too, the TOC is usually at the end.

  11. David Marjanović says

    I’m actually not in a position to check. In German-language books this shift is real in any case.

  12. Rodger C says

    Contents at the end is also normal in the Hispanophone world. Or at any rate it eas when I was acquiring most of my Spanish-language books.

  13. That’s how I open Russian books.

    1. take a book.
    2. guess whether the TOC is placed before or after the text.
    3. open it, look for the TOC
    4. if you guessed wrong, open again.

  14. @languagehat: I give points to the Lord answering Job out of the whirlwind for consistency, at least. He doesn’t even try to make a logical argument. However, whether that makes him more convincing than Krishna—who tries to have it both ways—is open to debate.

  15. David Eddyshaw says

    Isn’t it normal in France for the table des matières to appear at the back, even when there’s a less detailed sommaire at the front?

    Yup. Though I actually have one or two French works with the TOC at the front; they’re all from German publishers, and parts of series, so it may be to do with the policy for the series as a whole overriding the Frenchness of the individual work.

    (It doesn’t seem to be an automatic consequence of being published in Germany: Stefan Elders’ Grammaire kulango is TOC-final, despite being published by Rüdiger Köppe.)

  16. Just realised that Yandex (a Russian search engine) is [i]ndex with Ya.

  17. the most common form of the index is a PITA

    I give up, what’s a PITA and what does that stand for? My search yielded no clue.

    Several times I’ve been asked to make an index, most recently for a collection of essays in philosophy. Its editor (commissioned by OUP, and a colleague from my last tour of duty in academia), seeing what I came up with, remarked that the choice of a philosopher for this task was firmly vindicated.

    Perhaps. Certainly it takes careful analysis, design, and regimentation of ideas if an index is to avoid frustrating and enraging the diligent reader. But often it will take an outsider to achieve that, because subject experts are likely not to know what they know and others don’t.

    That said, far more annoying than a compromised index are endnotes. If they’re only bibliographical, fine. But if they give relevant amplification or discussion of content they are a bane and a half. Why not footnotes (trivially easy to manage in the digital age), if there must be a division into main text and notes of any sort? We run out of thumbs and patience trying to keep track of it all.

  18. J.W. Brewer says

    Noectica: You’ll need to scroll down from unmarked-for-register “pita” to “very informal” PITA.

  19. Yandex. –

    Though I’m not sure what’s going on with it now. It sold (or rather rented) its address ( to a state-controlled company and it has split its “Russian” and “foreign” parts. Presumably it has to do with sanctions on the one hand, and its role in forming public opinion on the other (whcih makes it an object of attention of politicians), but I don’t know details.
    Renting the main page is a highly unusual thing to do for a Russian competitor of Google.

  20. PITA! Well, I rest my case about subject experts. WYSIOTABI.

  21. John Cowan says

    Anyone who is interested in computerized indexes (as opposed to paper-style indexes that happen to be stored in computers) should consider ISO topic maps. There is a good introduction at “The TAO of Topic Maps”, where TAO stands for “topics, associations, occurrences”. Roughly speaking, topics correspond to the entries in a paper-style index and occurrences to the page numbers; the associations (which contain arbitrarily many topics, not just two) aim at the problem of which page number means what. Of course, creating a topic map requires a lot of human work, but so does making an index generally.

    See also Orson Scott Card’s story “The Originist”, which is set in Asimov’s Foundation universe and appears in the anthology Foundation’s Friends and the collection Maps in a Mirror. The description of the ideal indexer’s office is wonderful.

    No ghits for “WYSIOTABI”. You saw it here first, folks.

  22. David Eddyshaw says

    But often it will take an outsider to achieve that, because subject experts are likely not to know what they know and others don’t

    Very true. Just as attempting to copyedit your own work is so hit-and-miss: when you know what you mean, it’s all too easy not to notice that you haven’t actually said what you mean.

  23. “What You See Is On The — — Internet”?

  24. @LH, it is normal to ask your family member to help with your book, and the story as it is told here sounds as “someone insulted her spouse” to me. Having this said, I think at the time many women’s rights groups were specifically concerned with making birth and associated services more mother-friendly (allowing husbands to the delivery room was a part of this)….

  25. I mean, if you consider publishing somethig in Russian and ask me to help and I find that I strongly disagree with your views and insert an insult in your text, that would be just ugly. Yet if the object of her irritation is the field itself rather than her husband (and it was not exactly “his” book), maybe it is less ugly.

  26. “Chauvinism, male, variable amounts, 1–923” (i.e., on every page of the book). …”

    LMFAO. Why isn’t that the first thing everybody’s commenting on? Now I want to know for how much longer Signe (née? ) put up with him.

    Ah, googling for him grr tells me Signe M. Allen. She at least managed to include ‘Allen’ in the names of two of the sons. Googling for her finds only his biography grr grr. No mention of her efforts with his magnum opus. There was at least a jointly-named Foundation/Fellowship.

  27. January First-of-May says

    Renting the main page is a highly unusual thing to do for a Russian competitor of Google.

    To be slightly fairer, the company that the main page was rented to is the Russian competitor of Facebook. It’s not exactly a small company.

    But yeah… very weird move on their part.

  28. Well, then it is like one day you type and find yourself on a site that recembles a magazine which was once developed by google but now is owned by FB….

  29. I also had to look up PITA, for the nth time. It took me ages on social media to commit SMH to memory: I got as far as “not Sydney Morning Herald” and no further.

  30. David Marjanović says

    BLM, the Bureau of Land Management…

  31. I think, capitalised acronyms for me are names of organisations.

    Strangely, I’m quite tolerant to вводные слова as acronyms: IMHO, TBH and I guess BTW, but people here don’t use it.

    But the discoursive role of OMG (as opposed to omg) comes in conflict with capitalisation in my head.

  32. January First-of-May says

    It took me ages on social media to commit SMH to memory

    I somehow managed to commit to memory as standing for “somehow”. I know it’s not that, but it’s hard to remember what it actually is, and it probably doesn’t help that the actual expansion (namely, “shaking my head”) really doesn’t sound like a phrase that particularly many people would ever want to say.

    That said, my big annoyingly resistant acronym misparse (or the one that most easily comes to my mind, anyway) is FPS as a gaming genre: I default to interpreting it as “fast paced strategy” (which isn’t an official genre at all AFAICT), which of course makes me quite confused, and/or makes me significantly misinterpret what is being said, when it’s used in its actual meaning of “first person shooter”.
    (The fairly frequent [in a gaming-related context, at least] use of FPS to mean “frames per second” doesn’t help the confusion either.)

  33. My guess was that PITA stood for Page Index Technical Agreement, or something. I really believed this was a technical term for a type of an index, possible named after a committee which codified the rules.

  34. Speaking of hard to remember abbreviations, I have never been able to remember the meaning of German “bzw.”, which I keep reading as English “btw” that underwent the High German consonant shift (forgetting that the “t” is actually a thorn). Bei za Weg.

  35. J.W. Brewer says

    The classic ambiguity in these internet-speak initialisms is FTW, which apparently is used by The Young People to mean “for the win,” which itself is an idiom I don’t use and which can sound affected to my ear when people my own age use it. I have had multiple discussions with other Americans of my approximate age whose default parse of “FTW” left over from a Seventies/Eighties adolescence was “fuck the world,” although that typically did not make much sense in contexts where “for the win” had been intended.

  36. J.W. Brewer says

    Re the arbitrariness of alphabetical organization which was supposedly balked at in prior ages, consider the hybrid of the Library of Congress classification system typically used by university libraries in the U.S. Books are, based on subject matter, assigned a “call number” commencing with one or more letters of the alphabet via an inherently arbitrary set of correspondences (why is numismatics CJ and oceanography GC?), meaning that in the library as a whole everything can be shelved according to the arbitrary-but-easily-administrable alphabetical order thus generated, while still ensuring (subject to various glitches in the matrix) that any given book will be shelved with those of the same subject matter (or sub-sub-sub matter per a fairly arbitrary taxonomy).

  37. fuck the world

    I also remember reading common FYI “for your information” in corporate emails and interpreting it as FIY “fuck it yourself”, which was often making more sense in the context.

  38. Gavin Wraith says

    I am surprised to find no mention of the library of Hernando Colon among these comments.

  39. I too read FYI as FIY as in DIY, but I don’t reach the stage where I’m trying to remember if there is a common F-verb that English speakers would want to abbreviate. I notice that something is wrong, namely it is not фий, it is фъйи:-/

  40. That library classification systems are somewhat ineluctably arbitrary is demonstrated by different librarians assigning one book different call numbers. For a US university, Duke was a late switcher from Dewey to Library of Congress. IIRC, both of these systems, over time, changed their Dead Sea Scroll classifications. Some libraries, of course, return a book to the same shelf, regardless of collection growth. Now many libraries must choose a technology platform, whether commercial or open source, to keep track of it all. Libraries were in a sense forerunners of IT and searching.

    Indexing a book can be touchy when discovering an error in already-typeset text.

  41. A unique role will be played by progress in communications and information. One of the first stages of this progress will be the creation of a single global telephone and videophone system. Far in the future, more than 50 years from now, I foresee a universal information system (UIS), which will give everyone access at any given moment to the contents of any book that has ever been published or any magazine or any fact. The UIS will have individual miniature-computer terminals, central-control points for the flood of information, and communication channels incorporating thousands of artificial communications from satellites, cables, and laser lines.

    Even the partial realization of the UIS will profoundly affect every person, his leisure activities, and his intellectual and artistic development. Unlike television, the major source of information for many of our contemporaries, the UIS will give each person maximum freedom of choice and will require individual activity.

    But the true historic role of the UIS will be to break down the barriers to the exchange of information among countries and people. The complete accessibility of information, particularly in the creation of art, carries the danger of reducing its value. But I am certain that this contradiction will somehow be resolved. Art and its perception are always so individual that the value of personal contact with the work and the artist will always remain. Books will also retain their value. The private library will always exist, because it represents personal, individual choice and beauty and tradition, in the good sense of the world. Personal contact with art and books will always remain a joy.

  42. January First-of-May says

    Far in the future, more than 50 years from now, I foresee a universal information system (UIS), which will give everyone access at any given moment to the contents of any book that has ever been published or any magazine or any fact. The UIS will have individual miniature-computer terminals, central-control points for the flood of information, and communication channels incorporating thousands of artificial communications from satellites, cables, and laser lines.

    …This almost happened with Google Books, and then again with Internet Archive. Unfortunately the copyright restrictions (AFAIK much less restrictive when Sakharov was writing in 1974, especially in the USSR) broke the former and are in the process of breaking the latter.

    Overall it seems that Sakharov had significantly underestimated the speed of the computer revolution (and consequently how quickly the Internet will arrive), and overestimated the speed (and/or the requirement) of most other developments. He did (in the Russian version) clarify that he’s not being very precise about his dates, though.
    (…I remember seeing the “global videophone system” kind of predictions in the late 90s/early 00s and feeling that they sounded absolutely insane. But of course today the only difference is that there are many competing global videophone systems: Skype, WhatsApp, Telegram, and several lesser competitors. Turns out that having a big network designed for information transfer is very convenient for information transfer.)

    And his WT/PT split sounds like it was already a thing by 1974 to a large extent? But his figure of 300 people/km^2 is absolutely laughable (AFAICT some of the more industrialized Western European countries, such as Belgium, had already exceeded that by 1974; realistically the WT-equivalent area will be much smaller but much denser than the figures he gives), and his description of “flying cities” more laughable yet.

    But the true historic role of the UIS will be to break down the barriers to the exchange of information among countries and people. The complete accessibility of information, particularly in the creation of art, carries the danger of reducing its value. But I am certain that this contradiction will somehow be resolved.

    …meanwhile on this side I’m torn between “this is far into the future, still” and “he’s literally describing Twitter/DeviantArt”. Perhaps even Patreon, on the “somehow resolved” side?

    (Though I think his UIS is just “the entirety of the Internet, except a lot more centralized”. I’m mentioning specific websites because they are as centralized as what he’s describing; but of course the Internet is not just Twitter or Wikipedia or YouTube or Reddit or DeviantArt or even Facebook. I wonder what he would have thought about blogs.)

    (…He was only 68 when he died. With only slightly better health he could easily have survived well into the 2000s and seen much of the UIS part of his predictions come to fruition.)

  43. The complete accessibility of information, particularly in the creation of art, carries the danger of reducing its value. But I am certain that this contradiction will somehow be resolved.

    This is part of what Pelevin’s iPhuck 10 is about.

  44. David Marjanović says

    which was often making more sense in the context

    FTW! 🙂

    Similarly, there seems to be (or have recently been) a whole subculture of “old” people on Facebook who believed SMH meant “so much hate”…

    and his description of “flying cities” more laughable yet.

    Nuh-uh! You can’t have a future without flying cars. Like what’s the point even. From flying cars, flying cities are just the logical next step (…or three hundred).

  45. John Cowan says

    Chauvinism, male, variable amounts, 1–923

    The index for Common Lisp: The Language has a similar entry for kludges, of course with a different last page. More examples from the same book from our earlier discussion of indexes.

  46. yiddish conventionally does tables of contents as well as indexes at the end of the text (so behind the left-hand cover of a book), though i’ve seen the reverse as well.

    the division of the Bible into standard chapters

    surely this is only an innovation in the christian world, following well-established muslim and jewish practice? (i couldn’t quickly find a date for the establishment of canonical ayat; pasuk divisions are allegedly from sinai (YMMV), but pesukim of some kind* are referred to in the babylonian talmud**) (the surah divisions are presumably as old as the quran; i’m not sure about the age of the chapter divisions as an intermediate scale between pasuk and “book”/scroll of the tanakh.***

    * not necessarily referring to the divisions as they’ve been canonized (i don’t know what the state of the scholarship is on that), but pretty clearly understood in more or less the same way, as the basic semantic unit.

    ** Nedarim 37b, per halachipedia.

    *** i wonder when they started being numbered**** for reference, too. that seems like a separate process, since older jewish texts will often refer to a pasuk by its initial or key words.

    **** the current conventional talmud page/sheet numbers only go back to the 1520s, in the bomberg edition, though the named perek [~chapter] divisions below the level of the tractate, and the mishnayes [structuring mishna texts; the next division markers down from the perek] themselves were canonical well before that.

  47. Stu Clayton says

    *** i wonder when they started being numbered**** for reference, too. that seems like a separate process, since older jewish texts will often refer to a pasuk by its initial or key words.

    The Art of Memory was practiced in support of monologues, to help the speaker hang on to his train of thought. It ended up as a trailer park in Rhetoric.

    The subdivision of texts, in contrast, enhances discussions, written and spoken, in that they make referencing easier. It gradually developed as a set of techniques, but I don’t know of any fancy name given to them. The Art of Part. Divide and Discuss.

  48. Wiktionary sv “for the win” doesn’t mark it as American but gives etymology:

    From earlier use by radio and television sports announcers, describing a play that results in a win, bringing the game to a conclusion.

    What sports would that be? Baseball? I assumed it was from a game show, like “circle takes the square”.

  49. I tried the OED, which does not have “for the win” as an entry or subentry but does have it in the last citation s.v. anticucho:

    2022 @SoccerByIves 30 Mar. in (accessed 11 Oct. 2022) In honor of Peru making the World Cup playoff I am having Peruvian food in Costa Rica… Anticuchos for the win.

    The interesting thing is the etymology of anticucho ‘a marinated piece of meat (typically beef heart), grilled on a skewer’: “< American Spanish (Peru, Bolivia) anticucho (1883 or earlier) < Quechua antikuchu < anti, denoting the eastern region of the Andes + kuchu cut (of meat).” Who knew?

  50. While looking, I also happened on this incomprehensible citation s.v. be:

    ?1746 ‘T. Bobbin’ View Lancs. Dial. 21 I’r weawndedly glopp’nt, for the dule a hawpunny had eh.

    Weawndedly glopp’nt!

  51. Stu Clayton says

    This from the Internet Archive contains a glossary of South Lancashire dialect, a long introduction, and a “memoir” by the author John Collier (Tim Bobbin was his pseudonym), followed by his Tummus and Meary (from which hails the sentence fragment quoted).

  52. Thanks! Thence we get:

    Wedntly, or waintly, hearty, pretty well: “Heaw arto this mornin?” “Well, awm weantly, thank yo.”

    No explanation for “glopp’nt,” though.

  53. But I’m guessing it’s glop¹ (Obsolete exc. dialect) ‘To stare, to gaze in alarm or wonder.’

  54. No, it’s gloppen:

    2. transitive. To startle, frighten, astound. Chiefly in passive participle gloppened.

  55. i’m not sure there’s a single-sport original context for FTW. i can hear it in my mind’s ear being used in tv and radio commentary about a winning run crossing the plate in the bottom of the 9th baseball inning; the last goal in a soccer shootout; an at-the-buzzer basket or slapshot; etc.

    but/and FTW, WTF, and TFW are the closest approach i’ve seen to a complete set of intialism permutations in simultaneous use in a single social setting.

    (and thank you, prase – now i will be stuck with Fuck It Yourself forever, and gratefully so)

  56. PlasticPaddy says

    Weawndedly is reflected as woundedly in other texts from Lancashire and EDD has under “wounded”
    2. Obs. Excessive; used also advb. See Woundy.
    Lan. Thowt I t’ meh seln, o’ weawnded deeol, Tim Bobbin View
    Dial. (ed. 1806) 39. s.Lan.1

  57. J.W. Brewer says

    I had assumed, perhaps due to misgeneralization from the sort of social types who seemed particularly prone to use the “FTW” expression, that the relevant sense of “for the win” came out of the subculture of people who continue to play videogames (or the successor “computer games”) incessantly even when no longer teenagers while not being particularly good at sports that require physical exertion.

  58. into the mid-20th century many books had their table of contents at the end.

    I took a quick look at a pdf copy of the first volume of the Ausgabe letzter Hand of Goethe’s Works (1827), and the “Verzeichniß des Inhalts” is at the front.

    On the other hand, the scholarly editions published by the Deutscher Klassiker Verlag (very expensive, they were supposed to be the German equivalent of the French Pléiade editions) in the late 20th century have only a short TOC at the front, and a very detailed one (which is generally what you are looking for) at the end of a volume.

  59. @J1M, yes, it seems rather unremarkable.

    But.. I’m not ready to speak about “predictions of the Internet in science fiction” in general, but strangely it never appears in the selection that I read back then (that is, possibly in all foreign science fiction published in USSR).
    It’s at best “the crystal” (that is, a computer…) somewhere in the next (4th) millenium.
    So this text is the closest thing I know:-/

    I posted it, because essentially it is an electronic library (cf. Stephen “Libraries were in a sense forerunners of IT and searching.“)… and yet it is similar to our Internet. But our Internet is a library whose readers can also write (and of course, where every book has infinite number of copies).

    Somewhat similar to a bulletin board (if there were discussions on those). And indeed, even though I never used FIDO, I did use BBS for a while.

  60. He used our best computers, though.
    Maybe his personal experience with terminals, displays and printers was an advantage.

    Yes, I thought about videophones as a child. A straightforward combination of the two 20th century innovations in communication (phone and TV. Interestengly, 1. there were only two 2. videophone is communication. It isn’t a flying machine, not anything). Honestly, i’m not sure what prevented them from making them back then.

    Later of course there was a stage “well, actually we can have it if we like, it’s not difficult to implement it, the quality will be poor but tolerable”, then “well, actually, we have it, it is Skype”, then they (Skype) began talking about an actual videophone (a computer that ONLY can make skype and phone calls, a small box with a screen), but those never became common.

    Bradbury described mobile phones (“bracelets”, in Russian translation – I did not read it in English).
    That is, a peculiar use of those, in public transportation. This indeed happens, I’m used to it now, but I feared it 20 years ago: that I will be accessible when not at home. I got used to this too, but… Instead of receieving annoying calls when, say, walking (some actually do have it, but I minimised annoying calls;-)), what changes is that now I can be in touch with people from all over the world.

    Once a lady, young lady from my phone company called me and tried to convince me to replace my copper pair with optical fiber. (That month, before her, several very insisting men called too – but when you are a very insisting young man yourself, young ladies are more encouraging). For free. But then they would also offer Internet connection…I said no, and she was surprised and asked why and I said I like copper cable. Aestatically. To explain her my warms towards copper I mentioned steampunk. She asked me to tell me more about steampunk. She said she could benefit from knowign this, as a professional, she needs to know more about modern trends.

  61. The complete accessibility of information, particularly in the creation of art, carries the danger of reducing its value.

    I’m afraid “the creation of art” is just a mistranslation of произведение искусства…What he could mean is that you can look at Venus de Milo from home. It was already possible (printed albums). Like: people of future will just scroll the page, cast a quick glance at the picture, think “now I know what this artist’s paintings look like” and their romance with art will stop here.

    But in the year of (or maybe a month several months after? Anyway, certainly not the “age”) AI-generated porn “accessibility of the creation” indeed is a topic some will discuss.

    “Полная доступность информации, в особенности распространенная на произведения искусства, несет в себе опасность их обесценивания. ”
    ….accessibility, particularly extended to works of art….

  62. and their romance with art will stop here – speaking of “romance”: there are indeed similar concerns expressed about 1. scantly dressed ladies (the fear that nudity will become less appealing) 2. undressed ladies (said by some to be less sexy than scantly clad ones) 3. accessible ladies. Can’t remember anyone who would share similar concerns about men.

  63. textbook on obstetrics, – googled for it, and found myself reading a more recent edition (a friend of mine is 32 weeks pregnant and shares her doubts with me).

  64. In Erich Kästner’s The 35th of May, in the topsy-turvy city our heros visit, where everything is strange and unreal, a man pulls a phone receiver out of his pocket and starts talking on it. That was really wild in 1932.

  65. why is numismatics CJ and oceanography GC?

    Don’t know what system is that, but in my local library there is a bookcase marked thus:





    Youtube videos already have chapters, but not yet indices, just saying.

  66. in the case of Bradbury (“Murderer” en, ru, trans. Нора Г.) the prediction is human behaviour rather than tech:

    ….on the bus going home that night. There sat all the tired commuters with their wrist radios, talking to their wives, saying, ‘Now I’m at Forty-third, now I am at Forty-fourth, here I am at Forty-ninth, now turning at Sixty-first.’ One husband cursing, ‘Well, get _out_ of that bar, damn it, and get home and get dinner started, I’m at Seventieth!’ And the transitsystem radio playing ‘Tales from the Vienna Woods,’ a canary singing words about a first-rate wheat cereal.

    recembles my own worries and actual people in buses.

    P.S. and worries of the time:

    “Suppose you tell me when you first began to hate the telephone.”

    “It frightened me as a child. Uncle of mine called it the Ghost Machine. Voices without bodies. Scared the living hell out of me. Later in life I was never comfortable. Seemed to me a phone was an impersonal instrument. If it felt like it, it let your personality go through its wires. If it didn’t want to, it just drained your personality away until what slipped through at the other end was some cold fish of a voice all steel, copper, plastic, no warmth, no reality. It’s easy to say the wrong thing on telephones; the telephone changes your meaning on you. First thing you know, you’ve made an enemy. Then, of course, the telephone’s such a convenient thing; it just sits there and demands you call someone who doesn’t want to be called. Friends were always calling, calling, calling me. Hell, I hadn’t any time of my own. When it wasn’t the telephone it was the television, the radio, the phonograph. When it wasn’t the television or radio or the phonograph it was motion pictures at the corner theater, motion pictures projected, with commercials on low-lying cumulus clouds. It doesn’t rain rain any more, it rains soapsuds. When it wasn’t High-Fly Cloud advertisements, it was music by Mozzek in every restaurant; music and commercials on the busses I rode to work. When it wasn’t music, it was inter-office communications, and my horror chambers of a radio wrist watch on which my friends and my wife phoned every five minutes. What is there about such ‘conveniences’ that makes them so temptingly convenient? The average man thinks? Here I am, time on my hands, and there on my wrist is a wrist telephone, so why not just buzz old Joe up, eh? “Hello, hello!” I love my friends, my wife, humanity, very much, but when one minute my wife calls to say, ‘Where are you now dear?’ and a friend calls and says, ‘Got the best off-color joke to tell you. Seems there was a guy -‘ And a stranger calls and cries out, ‘This is the Find-Fax Poll. What gum are you chewing at this very instant!’ Well!”

  67. Bradbury is one of my (and many others’ in Russia) favorite authors and funnily, I find it particularly appropriate that his pirated stories can be so easily found.

  68. John Cowan says

    Honestly, i’m not sure what prevented them from making them back then.

    AT&T wired up a bunch of houses in one town (ordinary twisted pair wasn’t enough given the compression techniques of the day) and installed non-portable videophones more or less ordinary phone bases with microphones, speakers, cameras and sscreens. They found that people used the videophones as hands-free telephones, but kept the video off. Surveys showed that people felt too exposed knowing that their friends and family were watching them while on the phone.

    In short: the tech was ready, the culture was not.

  69. J.W. Brewer says

    @D.O. Well, computers are a bit of a challenge as they did not exist when the notorious Melvil Dewey first devised the Dewey Decimal System. An ad hoc decision was subsequently made to stick them into the series beginning with 0, which had largely been devised for miscellaneous library-science topics like bibliography and encyclopedias. Interesting perhaps for implicitly viewing computers as a way of storing/organizing data rather than as a subtopic of engineering or applied science?

    Why “parapsychology and occultism” (130-139) became a subcategory of “philosophy and psychology” (100-199 is a historical question about the early development of the system I don’t know the answer to.

  70. The Dewey system used to divide psychology between the 130s and 150s in a way that I only remember was opaque to me when reading already-old classification books. Then it was reorganized into 150, real psychology, and 130, “psychic” phenomena and the like.

  71. It is tempting to write something sarcastic, about how “real” psychology is different from “imaginary” one not in its truth value or approach but in social/genre associations of certain topics…

  72. The Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress systems both seem to have been based on people’s guesses as to what might be a relative even division of topics. It wasn’t that every section was supposed to be the same size, but they weren’t supposed to be vastly different sizes either. However, neither system seems to have done a particular good job in this regard. At many university libraries (the primary users of the Library of Congress system in America), the Q (science) section is larger that the entire rest of the collection; QC173 (and its subheadings) are vast on their own, since they encompass all of quantum physics.

    Moreover, there are a lot contingent peculiarities in what happened to end up where under each system. Under the Dewey Decimal system, the 000 range was designated for “general works”—which is sensible terminology for general reference books, which are shelved therein. However, apparently because this made “information” a significant part of the focus for the 000, a lot of computer science ends up being under this heading as well. And also cryptids.

  73. Michael Hendry says

    It’s been almost 50 years, but I still recall looking for the various volumes of Arnaldo Momigliano’s Contributi all Storia degli Studi Classici at the University of Chicago library, and finding that the first three I wanted were shelved on three different floors. It looked like the librarians filed them by looking at the first paper in each volume to see what it was about. The eventual nine volumes in twelve (III, V, and VI are double) were published separately as Contributo, Secondo Contributo, and so on, but all in matching covers and formats from the same publisher, so they should all be together under P for Philology, as the title implies. Of course, I’ve forgotten the details, but I think there must have been one shelved under B for Philosophy, one under DE for Roman History, and one under PA for Classical Literature.

  74. At many university libraries (the primary users of the Library of Congress system in America), the Q (science) section is larger that the entire rest of the collection

    At Case Western Reserve University, the PE classification (“English literature”) was the largest when I was there in 1975-76, because their extensive fiction collection was all classified thus. Dewey libraries normally treat fiction and poetry outside the classification system.

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