Style of a Different Sort

Volume 7, Issue 120; 12 Jul 2004; last modified 08 Oct 2010

On the typographic style of cross-references.

Style, in writing or speaking, is formed very early in life, while the imagination is warm, and impressions are permanent.

Thomas Jefferson

One of the common sources for epigraphs in these essays is H. L. Mencken’s Dictionary of Quotations, On Historical Principles From Ancient and Modern Sources. It’s a big, thick hardback volume that I picked up in a second hand book shop in North Walsham. The bookplate indicates it was originally a prize in The Times Crossword Championship.

Mencken’s publisher has adopted a style for cross-references that I have never seen elsewhere, an opening square bracket without the accompanying closing square bracket. For example:


[See Belief, Jest, Joke, Philosopher, Ridiculous.

Or, at the bottom of the “Style” entry:

[See also Addison (Joseph), Bible, Expression, Grammar, Idiom, Johnson (Samuel), Language, Metaphor, Milton (John), Speech, Words, Writing.

It looks very odd to my eyes, trained by so many years of computer programming I suppose, to expect brackets, braces, and parenthesis to appear exclusively in pairs.

My edition was published in 1984, but it may be reproducing a style from the original 1942 edition.


I've seen xrefs like that elsewhere. The text is right-justified, so the right margin serves as the closer.

That isn't a subtitle, BTW, it's the continuation of the title, which is an analog of the OED's formal title: "A New English Dictionary On Historical Principles."

—Posted by John Cowan on 13 Jul 2004 @ 03:28 UTC #

Right you are, not a subtitle.

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 17 Jul 2004 @ 01:20 UTC #