I am writing to complain about your journal’s deplorable habit of using not just lots of footnotes, but even having footnotes to footnotes!1 It’s annoying enough to have to deal with footnotes on a printed page, where your eyes have to keep skipping up and down between the main text and the footnotes, and then frequently you find that the footnote doesn’t contain anything interesting at all, just a citation, or even worse, an ibid.2 It’s even worse online, where you have to actually move the cursor up and down, frequently shoving the original text off the screen, and thus losing your place while looking for the footnote.3
But when you include footnotes to footnotes, the mind boggles! I’ve never encountered such a thing outside the pages of Speculative Grammarian, and I can’t imagine why you would have started such a tradition. I strongly urge you to stop using footnotes to footnotes, and in fact, to quit using footnotes altogether if possible. If something is important, put it in the main body of the text. If it’s not important, don’t include it in your paper at all.
1 Although I understand the impulse that drives people to use footnotes. I’ve even succumbed to it myself at times.4
2 For more on this topic, see my forthcoming book, Death to Footnotes!, pp. 12-13.
3 Ibid., p. 15-17.
4 But I don’t think I’d ever perpetrate such an abomination as a footnote to a footnote.
Speculative Grammarian accepts well-
Dear General Barca:
Thanks for your input. We at SpecGram tend not to be very strict in matters of style and formatting, preferring to let our authors do what they like. Some of our authors seem to love footnotes,1 others eschew them, others use them occasionally. If you don’t like the footnoted articles, maybe you shouldn’t read them.
We should, however, point out that we did not invent the practice of using footnotes to footnotes. The distinguished American linguist H.A. Gleason used footnotes to footnotes as early as 1975 (in a paper which overall seems to place Gleason squarely in the footnote-
1 E.g., Ura Hogg.3
3 Yes, Ura Hogg is a real name. So is Ima Hogg. Texans sometimes have strange names. For example, there’s a linguistics professor at Texas State University at Royalton whose name is Oil M. Derrick.5 Or maybe that’s not exactly right, but it’s definitely something close to Oil M. Derrick. Oil Derrick seems like a good name for a Texan, in any case.
4 The footnotes to footnotes occur on p. 14.
5 The application of the name Derrick to oil-
6 Gallows is also an interesting word. It was originally an Old English singular noun galga, but because the typical gallows has two posts, it was pluralized in Middle English by the addition of an -s. But since a gallows is all one apparatus, regardless of how many posts it has, it’s treated as grammatically singular in Modern English.7
8 For more on double plurals, see Jones and Johnson (2005) Pluralses: On the Use and Abuse of Multiple Plurals.
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