Monthly Archives: September 2013

changing and different meanings of the word ‘index’

First stop  – the Oxford Concise English Dictionary 1976 edition that I used at school, with my thoughts in [square brackets]

1) Index finger – forefinger – used for pointing [I like this use of the word index because a book index shows you what is in a book and what is important]

2) (On instrument) – pointer showing value of quantity or position on scale etc  [a book index doesn’t assign value to information, but it does pick out the important information]

3) Index number – quantity indicating relative level of prices or wages at a particular date compared with that at a date taken as standard. [This is one definition that has found a lot of new uses in recent years – Global Peace Index, Social Progress Index, and Human Development Index just three among many.]

4) Number expressing physical property etc in terms of a standard (refractive index)

5) Guiding principle; thing pointing to a conclusion [again a useful thing to bear in mind about book indexes, picking out the important things and showing where they are]

6) Alphabetical list, usu. at end of book, and verb to make the index [The OED gives 1578 as the earliest use in this sense]

7) Historical use – list of books forbidden to Roman Catholics, or to be read by them only in expurgated editions. [This was new to me when I looked today so I took a deeper look – this dates from the Council of Trent in the mid 16th century and continued until the last publication in 1948 and was abolished in 1966. So a defunct use of the word and you can take a look at the list of books and authors here.]

8) Typographical – Hand shaped symbol used to draw attention to note etc

9) Mathematical – Exponent

Second stop – OED online to look at new uses of the word index that weren’t included in the 1976 published dictionary

Computing. A set of items each of which specifies one of the records of a file and contains information about its address (first found in 1962 but not relevant enough for the 1976 school dictionary)

index-link   v.  [as a back-formation] (trans.) to make dependent on such an index (i.e wages and pensions – index-linked was first recorded from 1970)

index plate – car number plate (another 1970s term that I don’t think we use these days)

So the language continues to evolve – I wonder what uses the word might be put to in future?

Great British Bake Off and cookery book indexing

I spend a lot of time baking and also run another blog about my experiences, both good and bad. I also like watching the BBC series Great British Bake Off and like getting ideas for my own baking from the programmes. Recently they have looked at some of the oldest cookery books in England and recently included the book written by Richard II’s cook, usually called The Forme of Cury. It is reckoned to be England’s oldest cookery book and is kept in the John Rylands Library Medieval Collection in Manchester. Here’s a link to the index

Rather lovely isn’t it? But really, it is just a list of recipes in the book, not even in alphabetical order. All too often this is all that modern cookery books contain too, but you can get better treatment if you’re prepared to put in a bit of effort. Like baking really.  A great cookery book index gives the user a chance to find out which recipes have the ingredients they want to use. One of my favourite baking books is Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet.

If you take a look inside on the Amazon page you can find the index and see the following:

  • There’s a heading for each ingredient that lists all the recipes that contain that ingredient, for example “absinth” is found in one recipe for ‘Green fairy cakes, and “ale” is found in 11 recipes ranging from bread and rolls, to beef pies and Christmas pudding.
  • The index uses bold text for the ingredients and the recipe names, which are also given an initial capital so they stand out nicely.
  • There’s some useful cross references, for example “Cupcakes, see also muffins and fairy cakes” – subtle differences in baking methods mean that the recipes are filed in the correct place. But all cookies are filed under “biscuits” for simplicity.
  • Other cross references include some see references, for example “almond paste, see marzipan”.
  • Alternative ingredients, for example lemon marmalade in marmalade flapjacks instead of orange marmalade also get their own, non-bold entry.
  • Additional information included in the recipe introductions are also given entries, for example “kourambiedes  241” – leads to a recipe for “Orange almond butter biscuits” with the information that these are similar to the Greek cookies called kourambiedes, which are made without the orange.

Not only is the index fantastic, the recipes are great too.

History indexes reviewed

Further to my blogs below about how book reviewers address book indexes, I find that Catherine Sassen from the University of North Texas has written an article on reviewer’s comments about indexes appearing in Reviews in History between 1996 and 2013. The article appears in the September 2013 issue of The Indexer, so is not free to view. In over 1400 reviews she found 123 reviews which contained 131 evaluative comments about the index, and 8 further reviews commented about the absence of an index. Catherine then goes on to categorise and discuss the different kind types of comments that were made, for example about the accuracy, the exhaustivity, the extensiveness, the usefulness of the index etc.

All very interesting stuff. However, it also means that less than 10% of reviewers found anything at all to say about the index of the book they were looking at. The Guidelines for Reviewers document doesn’t specifically ask for comments on the index of the book. So given that reviews can stretch between two and three thousand words, it is perhaps unfortunate that so few reviewers thought to add a mention about the indexes that they encountered.

Catherine closes her article with a quote from David Dymond’s 1999 publication Researching and writing history –  “In a substantial book, the discerning reader deserves an index”. And I’d like to say that any history book review should comment on the index. Of course history books fall into a myriad of different types and fields and the type of index that is appropriate will vary from book to book. But in the territory between local history publications meant for dissemination across a relatively small geographical area and in-depth academic research studies surely it should be possible for them all to have an index?

I’m very much interested in expanding my indexing skills by taking on projects indexing history books so please do contact me if I can be of any help to you.