All professions, whether they admit to it or not, develop specialized vocabularies—jargon, terms of art, whatever you want to call them—and indexers, to whom vocabularies are the bread and butter, are no exception.
Last week, Joanne wrote about a couple of basic errors to look for when evaluating indexes. The first one she discussed is “an overabundance of locators”—long strings of page numbers after an entry, with no further information. In order to see whether or not a page has needed information, a user has to check every single page: time consuming when there are 10 or even 20 of these “undifferentiated locators.” The task is made more frustrating when something called a passing mention rears its ugly head.
Passing mentions often pop up where names are concerned. Indexing names seems like a straightforward operation—you just copy and paste the proper nouns into the index. That’s why they’re often called “low-hanging fruit,” right? Well, sort of. Or as indexers love to say, “It depends.”
Name indexing is actually complex enough to warrant entire books on the subject, from alphabetizing non-English names to how to handle titles of nobility. But these situations may not occur in every text. Passing mentions do.
So this is a term indexers love to toss around, but what exactly is a passing mention? A passing mention is just that—a name mentioned in passing. Namedropping, or a name used as an example, not a name that’s actually discussed.
In Indexing from A to Z, Hans Wellisch says, “[I]t would be folly to index every single name appearing on a page without regard to the context.” Leading a reader to a page without information is frustrating for the reader and can make the index as a whole less trustworthy. Imagine looking for information on Napoleon Bonaparte, and turning to a page to find, “When he was a child, Smith often loved to imagine he was a great soldier of the past, like George Washington or Napoleon Bonaparte.” Pretty disappointing.
It’s not always simple to determine passing mentions, but a few good rules of thumb can help.
It’s an example in a list
Does the name follow the words, “such as” or “like” or “for example”? Is it one in a series of names, without any other information? Probably a passing mention.
There’s no possible subheading
Indexing best practices recommend creating subheadings to handle long strings of locators. Can you think of a useful, non-fluffy subheading for the mention? If not, chances are it’s not indexable.
It’s only in a citation
Perhaps it’s a name in a citation or a footnote, but the person’s work isn’t actually discussed. It’s a parenthetical citation (Wellisch, 1995) or just a citation in a footnote with no further information. While some academic styles require this, if it’s not required, leave the namedropping out of the index. The reference list or bibliography should have those covered, so the index can point to information actually discussed in the text.
Finally, one way to handle names that must be included whether or not they’re substantive is the subheading “mentioned.” This is especially useful in biographies, where establishing relationships and historical context are vital. It serves two purposes: One, it does ensure inclusion of every instance of a name and two, it helps the index reader know exactly how much information is on the page (not much). Some prefer to just leave mentions at the main heading (see below), but this is ambiguous for a user in the way “mentioned” is not.
Churchill, Winston, 34, 104n65
Eleanor’s dislike of, 55, 73
famous speech, 66–68
marriage of, 182
Does page 34 contain just his name, or does it refer to general biographical information? With “mentioned”, this ambiguity is removed.
Of course, I can’t leave this topic without repeating the indexer’s maxim, “It depends.” One person’s useful information is another’s passing mention, so rather than treat the above as hard and fast rules, use them to refine your decision making. If you were a reader and turned to the page, would you be disappointed or frustrated?
For further reading about passing mentions, check out Facing the Text by Do Mi Stauber, and Indexing Names, edited by Noeline Bridge.
PI Pick of the Week
Dave Ream of Leverage Technologies is presenting a webinar on his new embedded indexing tool, IXMLembedder. The tool allows indexers to use their dedicated indexing software (Cindex or SKY) to create an index, and embeds index entries into Word, InDesign and XML documents using generated IDs. The webinar will be an interactive demonstration of the tool. More information about IXMLembedder can be found in this post or on Leverage Technologies’ website.