Love Me, Love My Footnotes

My use of footnotes appears to have sparked quite a rebellion amongst the commentariat, which seems to be evenly split on whether they are excellent or an offense against nature. As a natural response, I got a tattoo.
Publish date:
December 22, 2011
writing, I am a crochety curmudgeon, tattoos, footnoting

My use of footnotes appears to have sparked quite a rebellion amongst the commentariat, which seems to be evenly split on whether they are excellent or an offense against nature.

This, frankly, leaves me puzzled, because I’ve been footnoting for longer than some of you have been alive. Discussing this issue with my father, he recalled an episode from kindergarten when I fought long and hard for a footnote in a group project and was sent home from school early.

My love of footnotes as art form, as commentary, as the place to embed sneaky and wry asides that do not belong in the text, only grew and grew through childhood, until I reached college.

Where I met Professor Eileen Scully, a footnote evangelist if ever there was one.

She actually gave a sigh of delight when I turned in a paper that ended up being more footnote than text, and we used to bond over our mutual footnote appreciation. She taught me the fine art of the well-honed bon mot in footnotes, and ever since then, I’ve been unstoppable; I use footnotes anywhere and everywhere I can get away with them. I footnote my grocery lists.

I exchange “best footnote ever” stories with my fellow footnoting nerds.

But I try to be responsive to readers, so I took the issue to Twitter this week, where I got a stream of mostly supportive responses. Granted, my sample was far from unbiased, given that my appeal opened with: “Seriously, people, WHAT IS THE DEAL with footnote hate?” But in the process, I reaffirmed my deep and undying love for the footnote as art form.

And I thought to myself: “How can I convey my intense attachment to footnoting?”

emiliawrites: new tattoo: “footnoted as fuck”

sesmithwrites: @emiliawrites: Seriously I am this close to running to town and getting an n.b. tat RIGHT NOW.

emiliawrites: @sesmithwrites: DO IIIIIT

So I took a trip into town to visit my friends at Triangle Tattoo to discuss the situation. Madame Chinchilla was instantly excited as soon as I explained what was going on.

“Yes,” she said, “and yes.”

She was a little worried, because the foot is a sensitive spot on a lot of people, but I have feet of steel. I walk barefoot in all kinds of dubious conditions, so it takes a little more than a tattoo machine to upset me. My new tattoo was but the work of a moment, and almost before I knew it, I was slipping my shoes back on and rejoining the outside world, proudly wearing my love of footnotes, writ deep under my skin.

Tattooing is very personal for me; I don’t write about or discuss most of my tattoos and they are rarely photographed, although I do discuss tattooing culture, and I’m particularly interested in the ownership people seem to think they have a right to exert over tattooed women. I’m also fascinated by the utterly asinine things people seem to think it’s appropriate to say to tattooed people.

So I have to admit, I’m kind of looking forward to having a fairly visible tattoo that I will proudly talk about, forever and for all eternity. On Tuesday I joked that when I die, I will absolutely have a footstone marked “n.b.” and mikkipedia pointed out that “Op.cit.” would really be more appropriate. Footstone ordered.

That’s how committed I am to footnoting, people: I will footnote after I’m dead.

For all you footnote haters out there, I have two consolation prizes:

1. You will note that I very pointedly didn’t include a single footnote in this piece. And oh, there were so many I wanted to include!

2. Footnotes can be used for lots of things. Mine on xoJane are primarily textual asides; they are jokes, they are added context, they are rambling observations. They do not belong in the text because they would create sprawling, snarled parentheticals that would be no fun at all. But you don’t need to read them, because they aren't integral to your comprehension of the content. They're easter eggs! Bonus content! Hidden tracks! You can skim right over as if the footnotes don't exist -- and you’ll be missing some of the fun, but anyone who hates footnotes is probably a fun-hater anyway.

Bottom line: The footnotes are here to stay, unless I receive an editorial mandate from on high.