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Footnotes (and abbreviations) – the farts (and belches) on a page

While a very small number of footnotes are useful in unobtrusively directing a reader to the source of a quote, generally they are the reclusive domain of the intellectual, or those looking for intellectual status, trying to prove a point by referencing another, as if by mentioning another source for their information adds some sort of weighty authority or gives credence to their flatulent point. A fart on a page indeed! Are we then to believe that the source of an unexplained point is correct just because it was published elsewhere? This is nonsense, a literary nepotism based on what? This kind of posturing, this elitist ‘ibid.’ nonsense masquerading as researched writing, attempting to bolster the importance of a text littered with superscripted numbers and give it an air of intellect where it is absent, is just in reality lazy writing.

As one who typesets books that are riddled with footnote intrusions I can see the indolent advantage for an intellectual writer whose time is so important that he/she needs to enhance, strangle or smother a throw-away mention of something trivial or otherwise by referring to some giant tome which attempts to explain the universe and is only available in some specialist library. Then there are those boorish readers who won’t consider any text which is not punctuated with this pygmy fly-away text as intellectual, will decry it as unsubstantiated and will not accept points however well they are made. For fuck sake, do we readers need to be sent on a wild goose chase to verify some smug author’s pandering to their own ego only to find the source unavailable or merely a figment of the author’s imagination in that it does not explain or compliment his/her point.

If an author wants or needs to make a point which is made elsewhere by another then this needs to made in the text and, if needs be, explained in the text. Of course, if points are fully explained and credit for them given to another, this may make the author’s assertions look feeble and will definitely give the impression that the work is not entirely, or even vaguely in some cases, their own. It might even be said by some that a book riddled with footnotes is at best an ambiguous bibliography with the veneer of a guiding idea, rather uncharitable, but a view with some merit surely?

There will be those, certainly, who can find a reason for the industry and profusion of footnotes in that they allow a text to be read as the argument intended by the author without distraction or tangental flights of fancy, and that the ‘notes’ which congregate about the foot of a page are just there as helpful indicators of reference … more like ‘tosh and camouflage!’ to cover the cracks, in my opinion.


Joining that club of exclusive and deliberately obscurest writing techniques are abbreviations. Another feeble mind-fuck tool of the ‘busy/lazy’ intellectual. A nasty belch staining the page, where, unless you are attuned to them, they leave the reader second guessing the flavour-by-whiff … or maintaining a jiggery-pokery library in their head full of trite-useless alphabeti-spaghetti. These manufactured and localised acronyms are then, incredibly, given credence and weight by audiences of similarly challenged people, who accept them as actual words containing nuggets of ‘wisdom’ as they tumble out from platforms, or spread their self-importance on a page, during the inane utterances or dank scribblings of these ‘intellectual charlatans’.

If you have a valid point, ‘SPELL IT OUT!’, you lazy fucker

Alan Rutherford, Sheep in the Road
Hand Over Fist Press, to be published