Monday, October 01, 2007

Totally Random Gripe of the Day: Ibid

I've been going through a number of scholarly (and quasi-scholarly) pieces recently and I keep seeing in the footnotes the hated term: "Ibid." Ibid, as all you college graduates may recall, is the Latin abbreviation (or 'abbv.') that means "the same place [as the previous footnote]."

In the age of the printing press this little italic wonder was doubtless a labor-saving device. Instead of finding and inserting into the press the 60 lead-characters for "The Rise-And-Fall of the Roman Empire, page 1003" each time some pedantic author used 'em, the Copyboy Lobby (aligned with their powerful allies: Amalgamated Latin Textbook Manufacturers, William Randolph Funk-Wagnalls, Caliph Ahmad Tarabian, Col. MLA Guide, the Teachers Union, and - of course - AIPAC) introduced "ibid." No longer would the typesetters sweat for hours over a hot printing press. The labor was pushed onto the readers who would sometimes need to flip back pages to find the original citation. At times, it was quicker just to do the original research yourself rather than find what the lazy copyboys deigned to include.

But we were all taught to include 'ibid.' into our scholarly papers. It made the writer look smart: because it allowed us to use Latin (always an intellectual assault tactic), it made the reader feel stupid (because who can keep track of the citations with all those ibids?) and it could even hide shoddy research (especially if it was a Floating Ibid, often found in the first footnote of a chapter).

However, since the early 80s we've been in the computer era. Computer word processing software has what we laymen call "cut and paste." This makes ibid obsolete. I will prove my point in three steps: This makes ibid obsolete. This makes ibid obsolete. This makes ibid obsolete.

Why do we need to use ibid anymore?! It doesn't save labor for the computer. It makes writing more difficult (because sometimes we writers need to move paragraphs around before we publish, upsetting the idiot Ibid balance). And it's a disservice to the reader.

In my infamous senior thesis, I refused to abide by the Ibid system (risking the wrath of the Funks and the Tarabians as well as, of course, the dreaded Israel Lobby). Join up and unite against Ibid!

{2009 Update: pic is logo of the "Institute for Biotechnology of Infectious Diseases."}

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