Back Words Indexing 

  Back-of-the-Book Indexes
     for Publishers and Authors

      "You're going to love the way your book ends!"



about indexes
my background

authors as indexer
computers asindexer

quotations about indexes/indexing
indexer humor

order of the kohlrabi
wilson awards judge



Martha Osgood
Back Words Indexing

Since 1996

author of the index in
Inside Indexing:
the Decisionmaking Process

by Sherry Smith & Kari Kells





I'm still looking for THE DEFINITIVE ANSWER to the following questions:


passim away
see under six feet
go back to the contents
go back to page one
page away
cross their references
file away
David A. Green
David A. Green
Gil Osgood
Padi Harmon
Padi Harmon
Padi Harmon
Paul Illes
Savannah Barnes
Nancy Cline
Your name here


Indexers do it by the book
Indexers find it faster
Indexers know where to look first
Indexers know how to find it
Indexers are full of one-liners
Indexers do it alphabetically
Indexers do it by the letter
Indexers point the way
Indexers bring it all together
Indexers organize it
Indexers ____________________
Denise Jackson
Kristin Manke
Dan Gleason
Dan Gleason
Dan Gleason
Paul Illes
Kristin Manke
Martha Osgood
Your Name Here
Send your responses
to me - I'll add it and your name to this list.

Plural nouns (an Exaltation of Larks, a Clowder of Cats, a Gaggle of Geese) for indexers could include:

      • A Compilation of Indexers
      • An Indication of Indexers
      • A Gathering of Indexers
      • A Concordance of Indexers
      • A Silence of Indexers
      • An Agony of Indexers
      • A Syndicate of Indexers
      • An Alliance of Indexers
      • A Map of Indexers
      • A Library of Indexers
      • A Solution of Indexers
      • A Manifestation of Indexers
      • An Order of Indexers
      • A Page of Indexers
      • A Thread of Indexers
      • A Web of Indexers
      • A Sherlock of Indexers
      • A Column of Indexers
      • A Table of Indexers

      • a Hive of Indexers would include only the Bs
      • an Ocean of Indexers would include only the Cs
      • a Flock of Indexers would include only the Js
      • a Train of Indexers would include only the Ls
      • a Garden of Indexers would include only the Ps
      • a Bed of Indexers would include only the Zs...

       (with thanks to Kristin, Sandy, Nancy, Lenore, Michael, Martha, Bob, and Jonathan--indexers all)

Q. How many indexers does it take to change a lightbulb?

A. See lightbulbs, changing  (Thanks to Richard Evans)

A. Indexers don't change lightbulbs. But they'll be happy to make a list of all the lightbulbs and their locations so that the maintenance crew can find them later.   
(Thanks to Erika Millen)

A. 1,005. One to screw it in. One to index it under "E" (electric lightbulb). One to index it under "T" (tungsten bulb). One to index it under "F" (fluorescent tube). One to index it under "L" (lightbulb), and another 1,000 to debate the indexing protocol over on Index-L. (Thanks to Robert Saigh)

A. Only one. However, someone is bound to say they can hire someone for much less money to simply hang a flashlight from the ceiling.
(Thanks to John Sullivan)

A. None, it recharges itself from the brilliance of their repartee!
(Thanks to Jeri Lee)

If we weren't called Indexers, what would we be called?


(The above thanks to John Heffernan)

Original Search Engineers
Chaos Police
Search Guides
Information Retrieval Specialists
Guidance Counselors
Treasure Mappers
Navigation Experts

Topographer extraordinaires

Key Coders
Legend Writers
DeCryption Experts
Site Sighters
Bearing Finders
Information Architects

And of course: Indexers do it logically, carefully, directly, precisely, completely, and without unnecessary fluorishes.

More at Leverage Technologies

And for the pure enjoyment of The Book As Book

An ad from the New Zealand Council of the Book:


From Real Indexes

Eggs, fried, bogus
- Henry Porter, in Lies, damned lies

Butter, in Irish bogs
Journals, British, their brutal tone
Wooden leg, never eats pudding
- James Russell Lowell, in Bigelow Papers

      necessity of, to modern publisher
      unwarrantable luxury of, to authors
- Hilaire Belloc, in Caliban's Guide to Letters

Brunnhilde, temporarily blinded by helmet
Swan, dangerous to tenors
Zebras, in attempt to enliven Norma
- Hugh Vickers, in Great Operatic Disasters

The index for The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse  was even funnier than the verse. Some examples:

  • Beauties, well-baked
  • Cheese, cheshire, by whom digestible
  • Elephant, not amphibious
  • Newspaper editors, not always truthful
  • Pea, not self-supporting
  • Tapeworm, lonely but prolific

While review copies of the book have not been released, the "secret" index to Jane Fonda's new book can give hints as to its contents...

With apologies to Claude Rains and Bogart in Casablanca:

      CR: Why did you decide to become an indexer, Rick?
      HB: I'm in it for the Big Bucks.
      CR: But there are no Big Bucks in indexing.
      HB: I was misinformed.                                                 (Thank you, Bob Richardson)

The "index" to the Atlantic Monthly was reviewed by the Washington Post:

From Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography

These are some of the entries (note that the book begins on page ix and ends on page 212, which is blank and has a hole in it.):

beige coat, medium length, 101, 118. See also Disguise Training, PhaseTwo
conspiracies. See overall feeling of doom
Disguise Training, Phase Two. See Disguise Training, Phase One
Disguise Training, Phase One. See disguises
disguises. See noble causes
doom, overall feeling of, ix-211
medium-length beige coat. See beige coat, medium length
moral uncertainty. See villainy
necessary evils. See moral uncertainty
noble causes. See necessary evils
overall feeling of doom. See doom, overall feeling of
villainy. See conspiracies

From Fran .............................

In Douglas R. Hofstadter's own index to his book Le ton beau de Marot, reviewed in The Indexer (vol. 21 no. 1, April 1998), the index covers pages 609 to 632. On page 631 there is an index entry:

index: challenges of, 598; as revelatory of book's
       nature, 598;
typo in, 633; as work of art, 598

PS - there is no page 633.

There has been a friendly and sometimes less-than-friendly rivalry between William F. Buckley and Norman Mailer going on for many decades. In the index to one of Buckley's books, under "Mailer, Norman" are no page references, just this message" "Hi Norm." Obviously Buckley expected Mailer to pick the book up off a rack in a bookstore and immediately look for references to himself in the index.

Melinda Davis reports that in a Winter 1999 Garden Book Club flyer, the HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion  is advertised as "featuring 300 blind cross-references."  Since the definition of "blind" cross-reference is one that leads the reader to a non-existent reference -"wild goose chase" would be a valid translation. To quote my husband: "This is a bug, not a feature."

In the movie version of P.D. James' "Shroud for a Nightingale," detective Adam Dalgliesh is is leafing through a book looking for information and says something to the effect, "I couldn't find anything pertinent as I looked through the book, and there's NO INDEX".

Winner of the Ignobel Prize

"The" has its place. That, more or less, is the theme of Glenda Browne's treatise called The Definite Article: Acknowledging "the" in Index Entries. The "the" article appears in The Indexer, the information- and fun-packed publication for professional indexers everywhere. The Indexer has its own index, which includes an entry for Browne, Glenda. Internationally, the "the" problem is not the problem, it is merely a problem. Browne makes this clear at the very start of her paper, with a quotation from indexing maven Hans Wellisch: "Happy is the lot of an indexer of Latin, the Slavic languages, Chinese, Japanese, and some other tongues, which do not have articles, whether definite or indefinite, initial or otherwise." ~ August 1, 2005 in the Guardian at http://tinyurl.com/2zetqe or http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/research/improbable/story/0,,1834107,00.html

WarningIf you don't put an index in your particularly important book, beware of those who will do it for you... satirically:        http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/the-going-rogue-index

The Daily Beast (blog) on the lack of an index in Sarah Palin's book Going Rogue:
   Sarah Palin’s book hits stores on Tuesday. For Washington’s navel-gazing elite, particularly its Republican branch, the publishing event of the season carries with it a crucial question: Does the former vice-presidential candidate mention you?
   It used to be that there was an easy way to find out. All the big names in town would do it: stop by the Georgetown Barnes & Noble or Politics and Prose, stare admiringly at the cover, then furtively flip to the index to make sure your place in the power structure was secure.
   But, according to a source at the book’s publishing house, Palin has a surprise for Washington’s self-important set: Going Rogue has no index.
   “I suppose we’ll actually have to read the whole book from now on,” said former Clinton adviser and CNN commentator Paul Begala. “Heaven forbid.”
   She’s not alone. Two weeks earlier, the other big political book of the season, David Plouffe’s The Audacity to Win, landed on shelves. It, too, has no index. Plouffe and Palin may hail from opposite ends of the political spectrum. But they’re engaged in an unwitting conspiracy to kill one of D.C.’s favorite pastimes. We are witnessing the death of the “Washington Read.”
   What is behind this change in the world order? It’s bad enough that D.C. has to suffer through a plague of lobbyists, the monochromatic dreariness of a one-company town, subpar restaurants—and the dismal won-loss records of the Redskins and the Nationals. Why are Plouffe and Palin bent on robbing Washingtonians of their one true joy?
   One answer: time. It takes two to three weeks to put together a good index, says Peter Osnos, the founder of Public Affairs, who has published Bill Clinton, Vernon Jordan, Scott McClellan, and nearly every other Washington macher over the years. Cutting an index can mean the difference between getting a book into stores well before Thanksgiving or missing the holiday sales season altogether. Speed is at an even greater premium now, in the age of e-books and instant downloads on the Kindle. And of course, skipping the index means fewer pages—and fewer dollars spent to bring the book to market. “Every penny counts,” Osnos said.
   Not surprisingly, members of D.C.’s power elite are not amused.
   “Books like that should have indexes,” said D.C. literary agent Raphael Sagalyn...


And the fallout: the Golden Turkey Award from ASI

Sarah Palin's Going Rogue has no index at all - a brilliantly simple if deviant way of proving the need for an index, worthy of one who prides herself on being a bit of a maverick. The sheer difficulty of using Going Rogue for any purpose beyond that of a doorstop turns it into an ironically elitist text. Now, other tomes from diverse parts of the political spectrum have been published without indexes (most recently and egregiously, David Plouffe's The Audacity to Win). What makes Going Rogue stand out is its sheer importance. Whatever one thinks of Ms. Palin, no one can doubt that she was a principal player at the center of an historic campaign. Scholars of the political history of the early 21st century will have to consult this book, a task which the lack of an index has made nearly impossible. If Plouffe's account were compared to Eusebius of Caesarea's biography of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, Palin would be Constantine's rival Maxentius, defeated at the Milvian Bridge. Valuable as Eusebius's manuscript is, late antique historians would kill for a first-hand account from Maxentius - and if it were 432 pages long, as Palin's Going Rogue is, and as full of public and personal incident, their first job would be to give it an index...          http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/11/20/125126/76

and the Award itself

Weiner's Law of Libraries:   There are no answers, only cross-references.

The index embraces its silly side
By Alex Beam, Globe Columnist | October 21, 2004

A reader writes: "It may be time for a witty column on `Whatever Happened to the Index?'  I love Jim [James] Carroll dearly, but his publisher has cashiered the index for his newest book, `Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War,' leaving those who might want to rely upon his words searching through the entire book for the desired point."

Indexes, subject of. They might be called the policemen of literature; they never seem to be around when you need them. (Although Carroll said in an interview he didn't think "Crusade," a collection of columns, needed an index.) My Bible doesn't come with an index, which would come in handy when trying to untangle the two Lazarus stories, or for that matter the various Simons and Marys. "Common Ground," J. Anthony Lukas's biblical account of Boston's racial politics in the 1960s and 1970s, was published without an index, much to the chagrin of many locals mentioned therein.

There are books no one would dream of reading, but a quick trip through the index would be quite rewarding. The classic example is "The Andy Warhol Diaries" for which both Spy and Fame magazines published pullout indexes in 1989. Spy's is better remembered, perhaps for entries such as these: "Beatty, Warren . . . called disgusting by Jacqueline Onassis for mysterious act in hallway," or "Nureyev, Rudolf . . . awful dancing of."

Read the rest at:


         and even here:   http://tal.forum2.org/injokes