Notes on Footnotes

(Last modified 28 April, 2003 )

This page used to demonstrate the use of a footnote object1 The footnote is named for Sir James Footnote, who cited a source for his every utterance. for Dreamweaver 3. Unfortunately, the code I used in the footnote object has become obsolete in various ways. I've re-coded the footnotes on this page to use better CSS and better/later versions of the Macromedia show/hide layers code; they should work now in most modern browsers, though I'm not sure whether they'll still work in 4.0 browsers. They definitely won't work in 3.0 browsers, or in any browser that doesn't have JavaScript turned on, or in iCab.

To view a footnote, move the pointer over a footnote number.

I believe I've fixed the problem that caused Netscape 4.x to crash on resizing a page containing footnotes; if you resize this page in Netscape and Netscape crashes, please drop me a note.

Uses of the footnote

Many scholarly works2 (and, obviously, some not-so-scholarly ones) include footnotes. A footnote can be used for any of six major purposes:

To digress.3 Which reminds me of a Tom Lehrer recording. But I digress.

To obfuscate.4 Generally through the use of cryptic abbreviations: viz., "ibid," "op cit.," "passim," et al., q.v.

To confuse the reader.5 After all—as the poet has so aptly noted—"Whither the lovely glockenspiel in flight? / Whither the brackish ptarmigan by night?"

To be pedantic.6 "It's hard to be a pedant in a world that's wrong Wrong WRONG!" —Zed Lopez

To cite references that7 (if you're lucky) nobody will ever look up.8 Pedant, Irene Melissa Anne, "A study about whether readers ever look up citations," Journal of Footnote Research 18:53-112.

To show off the author's erudition.9 "Erudite—wasn't she the Greek goddess of wisdom?" —Jennifer Skurnick

Obtaining footnote text

Before creating a footnote, one must first obtain a reference or a parenthetical aside. References may be obtained by consulting any library;10 or by requesting them from a job candidate be sure to choose a book or article with an impressive-sounding title. Parenthetical asides are also easy to come by: merely think of something irrelevant to the topic at hand, and write it down.11 Failing that, references and parenthetical asides are available on reasonable terms from the present author. Inquire within.

Stalking the wild footnote

Footnotes are easily startled.12 Boo!

If you encounter a footnote that is foaming at the mouth or shows other signs of rabies, do not under any circumstances attempt to capture it yourself. Instead, immediately contact your local university's Comparative Literature department, which will be happy to send a trained expert to assist you.

Preparing a footnote

Footnote are tasty straight out of the box as a low-calorie snack.13 A single footnote supplies almost 85% of the USRDA of tedium.

If you prefer, you may sautée them with butter and onions, and wrap them in pita. If you must cook a footnote in the oven, be sure to stop when it's half-baked.

Care and feeding of the footnote

If you treat your footnotes well, they will breed. In general, the more footnotes a given work has,14 (even gratuitous ones) the more it is likely to acquire.15 Case in point. Some articles contain more text in the footnotes than in the main text.


Treat your footnotes well, and they shall wax fertile, and multiply.



Jed Hartman <>