Today is National Indexing Day: a day of celebration for all those who are concerned with maintaining good standards in book editing and production.
Sam Leith in the Guardian has a nice piece about the subject, hailing the ‘unsung heroes of the publishing world’.
He spell out why an index is so vital:
the index is, in any nonfiction book, more useful than almost anything else in the apparatus. It is a map of the text; a cunningly devised series of magical shortcuts that can in the good case save a scholar many hours of work, and in the bad one save a bookshop-browsing cabinet minister from having to buy a former colleague’s memoirs.
The bean counters who run so many big publishers these days don’t, of course, always see it this way. If there has to be an index at all, then surely it could be generated by a computer? Similar arguments are often applied to the necessity of employing specialist copy-editors and proofreaders. Proper publishing needs all three, I say.
Leith also mentions the clever way some comic writers have used the index as part of their work. This has been highlighted in blogposts by the indexer and editor, Paula Clarke Bain, who is one of the driving forcers behind National Indexing Day (she has tweeted a dozen or more times already). A great example can be seen in the recent Alan Partridge book, Alan Partridge: Nomad, which contains gems such as:
Corsodyl Mouthwash, brand ambassadorship of 24 (buy Corsodyl Mouthwash, the best mouthwash there is)
Countryfile, that woman who sued 10
Haddaway, a man that looked like 257
Jam bombs 149
Netflix, Christ’s opinion on 265
Phalanx, nice use of the word 73
Quite superb physical condition (QSPC) 35, 36, 37, 41, 106, 276
More information about a June conference in Oxford on the state of the art of indexing can be found here. The Society of Indexers can be found here.
A month or so ago Michael Quinion, the founder and writer of the wonderful World Wide Words website, sent out a message to the 50,000+ subscribers to his free newsletter that he was suspending publication his newsletter, citing ‘personal circumstances’. It would seem that I was not the only person who took this as meaning that he was facing serious illness.
Happily, this wasn’t actually the case, as Quinion has reported this week. Although he has had a foot operation it was, in his words, ‘hardly life-threatening’, and he has come through it with a leg in plaster and instructions not to put any weight on it for a fortnight. He continues:
This has almost nothing to do with my decision to cease writing World Wide Words. Truth be told, after 930 issues I was becoming written out. Every week that passed made writing more of a chore and less of a pleasure. About a year ago, closure of the freelance reading programme of the Oxford English Dictionary, to which I had contributed since 1992, meant that I had lost a key stimulus for investigating and writing about new words and — more recently — access to the online OED. Cuts to local authority library services have very recently severed access to a key British Library newspaper database.
I began to think that somebody was trying to tell me it was time to stop.
The good news is that the WorldWideWords website will stay online, and will certainly be a resource for many years to come. Where else would one go to find out whether or not someone’s definition of a well known phrase or saying is actually codswallop? (Nothing to do with Hiram Codd, the 19th century purveyor of soft drinks, apparently.)
Those of us who toil in the back reaches of the interwebnet should salute Michael Quinion and thank him for the twenty years of wisdom and wit he has regularly dispatched to so many people. Good luck in the future. The project he is now taking on – the conservation, documentation and move of a recently closed local railway history museum – is surely in the safest of hands.