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Footnote Fever

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"Footnotes are the finer-suckered surfaces that allow tentacular paragraphs to hold fast to the wider reality of the library."
Nicholson Baker, The Mezzanine

Footnotes are a valuable literary device and not just for scholars or high school students who need to pad out a report on the "Life and Death of Joan of Arc". No, authors of fiction use them too and often in various interesting and experimental ways. These footnotes could contain jokes, more information about what's going on in the story, or even an entirely different story. These authors have Footnote Fever!

Many translations will use footnotes because the main problem of translation (rather than simply transliteration) deals with how to get across elements that are specific to said work's original language or place of origin (puns, metaphors, hidden meanings, references, Values Dissonance, etc.). Methods to prevent these elements from being Lost in Translation boil down to Woolseyisms or Translator's Notes (TN), footnotes where the translator explains elements that are too difficult to explain and keep the narrative flow uninterrupted. Obviously, translation into seriously unrelated languages tends to devolve into footnote fever quite quickly. See Too Long; Didn't Dub for more specific cases.

Examples of works utilizing footnotes only rarely applies in Non-Fiction Literature because citation is often done with footnotes, making it a standard feature of the medium.

For the Webcomic equivalent, see Alt Text. The Comic Book equivalent is Clue from Ed. Compare and contrast Colon Cancer.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The 100 Girlfriends Who Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Love You: In chapter 109, the Rentarou Family decides to put on a pretend drinking party using "Serious Kids' Beer" to welcome Hard-Drinking Party Girl Momoha into the fold. Unfortunately, this gets vetoed when the Big Cheese of the Publishing Biz tells everyone via dreams that depicting minors drinking or drunk as good, whether sincerely or simulated, is a no-no. Rentarou finds multiple workarounds to pull it off without actaully drinking anything alcoholic, one of which is a footnote reading "No alcohol or anything with similar effects has been consumed" to tack on to any panels in which characters appear drunk. This footnote then appears on nearly every single panel for the next chapter and a half.
  • While Asteroid in Love is a simple Schoolgirl Series, it includes large amounts of (mostly accurate) trivia on astronomy, geology, and other sciences. While the author didn't include much in terms of footnotes, a Chinese fan translation seems to be written by science majors, which means that translation describes each star mentioned as footnotes, and gives the readers pages—more than 4 pages per chapter in some chapters—of scientific introductions. There are one or two chapters that the translators decided to give an introductory lecture on astronomic viewing, making the notes longer than the manga itself.
  • GA: Geijutsuka Art Design Class's art edutainment tendencies plus the heavy use of puns means every manga volume by Yen Press has at least 4 pages of translator's notes.
  • Good Day to You, How About a Game?: The scanlations come with multiple pages of notes explaining the byzantine rules of mahjong, in addition to the exposition the characters in the story do.
  • Hidamari Sketch, also in a high school arts program setting, of which Yen Press publishes as Sunshine Sketch, manages only 1 page of notes per volume (and in volume 4, more than 50% of that page is blank). It's amazing what a slight change in focus can do...
  • Shirow Masamune is a footnote maniac. Just wait 'til you read Ghost in the Shell 2: Man/Machine Interface (assuming you get to understand it).
  • Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple has a lot of these captions; in particular, the "Miu has a habit of throwing anyone standing behind her" box is practically a running gag. And many times when a person appears, a little box with their name (and character summary) will pop up. As there are tons of characters, this can be helpful in keeping track of everyone, but it also applies to people who show up all the time, like Kenichi's masters. So we get captions like "Appachai: Death God Of Muay Thai" and "Sakaki Shio: The 100-Dan Karate Master", like every ten chapters or so.
  • K-On! is translated by Yen Press, and has around 4 pages of translator's notes at the end of each volume in order to explain puns and other cultural stuff that would otherwise be missed.
  • The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service has extremely thorough footnotes, mainly translating all the SFX that were left in the original Japanese, but also explaining historical events, relevant cultural tidbits, etc. The footnotes in the first few volumes tended to be heavy on the SFX and rather dry in describing the other things, but as the series progressed the footnotes started getting more entertaining, with the editor rambling on subjects only tangentially related to the original footnote, cracking jokes, and generally sounding a lot less formal.
  • This trope is often employed by some authors (e.g. Tsukasa Hojo and Wataru Yoshizumi) for "author's commentary"; for example, in Yoshizumi's Mint na Bokura, one character wonders out loud "Why didn't I think of this earlier?", and below the panel there's written "...Because you're an idiot?"
  • Ninja Nonsense: In volume 1, there's almost half as many footnotes as there are pages (63 footnotes, 148 pages) and 31 of those footnotes are needlessly big with the biggest being two footnotes that are three sentences and 75 words long. Not to mention that they pop up literally every two or three pages as well.
  • Junko Mizuno's Pure Trance manga has footnotes for every character, item, and animal in the story on every page, as well as several full-page notes and random artwork. While these "notes" are numbered, they aren't directly connected to the story.
  • Saki: There's a fan translation of the manga with pages of end notes after each chapter to explain what's going on to people who don't play proper Mahjong (as opposed to the solitaire game).
  • School Rumble's author slips tossing a quick joke or observation on the sides of the manga's panels to sometimes add to the delivery, explore a character's motivations, or snark at the cast's wackiness.
  • Welcome to Lodoss Island, which tells the story of the manga version of Record of Lodoss War entirely in comical omakes, often has translator's notes explaining puns (for example, that aho, in addition to being one of the Japanese transliterations of the noise a crow makes, is also Japanese for "dumbass"). In one, however, Parn describes goblins in a rather nonsensical manner, and the translator's note states that Parn is babbling like an idiot even in the original Japanese.
  • Yuria 100 Shiki is filled with Little Yellow Boxes explaining how Yuria's current bizarre behaviour relates to her programming as a Sex Bot.

    Comic Books 
  • The usual reason for footnotes in comics is to provide the Clue from Ed. that tells you what other comic you should have been reading in order to understand what the characters are talking about.
  • The Asterix comics often use footnotes to highlight Historical In-Jokes.
  • The Cartoon History of the Universe has footnotes for digressions from the main narrative. Rather than the usual caption within a panel, they're additional comics at the bottom of the page, indicated by an asterisk being painted by a foot.
  • The Chick Tracts are chock full of them, usually Biblical verses.
  • Alan Moore's From Hell contains pages upon pages of footnotes in the appendix, though most of them aren't called out in the actual panels. Keeping a bookmark in the appendix can be a necessity.
  • DC Comics' run of Cartoon Network's Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi uses footnotes to translate some of the Japanese words used in the characters' dialogue balloons.
  • Spoofed in the Legion of Super-Heroes/Bugs Bunny Special: One page features a Note from Ed. that has four sub-footnotes, the last of which ends with the editor saying "It's a miracle I remember all this...send help."
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics) uses this constantly, though it seems to be Depending On The Editor.

    Fan Works 
  • Ralph Hayes, Jr. is fond of this — most of his fanfics have every chapter end with notes involving in-universe commentary on things within each chapter. And they tend to be the most hilarious part of each story.
  • A.A. Pessimal follows the honourable lead of Terry Pratchett in his Discworld and incorporates lots of footnotes. These range from informative, to trivial, to tangential, to incorporating sidenotes and bits of stories that don't fit into the main story, to shameless self-promotion of his other works. His ambition is to write a chapter one day where the footnotes are three times longer than the actual story.
  • Book Of Days features not only Twilight Sparkle's footnotes to help explain pieces of Clover the Clever's journal (which the entire work is supposed to be Twilight's translation of) but also banter from Princess Celestia and Luna.
  • Equestria: A History Revealed is double funny if you check the footnotes leading to bibliography. Intermingled with scientific-sounding books there are Loose Change's derogative comments on the text, books on maths and Spanish for dummies and a literary masterpiece "What are Fingers? Anthro puberty and you".
  • The filk song "Heroine Barbarian" by Kevin Wald is a highly footnoted parody of the Gilbert and Sullivan patter song "I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General" about Xena: Warrior Princess. It can be found here.
  • Each chapter in The Legend of Total Drama Island has an extensive Notes section, with over 30 entries in some cases, most of which explain obscure and/or highbrow allusions.
  • The Lunar Rebellion is presented in-universe as the most recent edition of Shadow Kicker's memoirs, as edited by her distant descendant Cloud Kicker. As a result, it is liberally interspersed with annotations and running commentary on Cloud's part as she alternatively provides exposition and clarification on historical details or her own opinions of the various events.
  • Ook, said the Librarian is a crossover between Thursday Next and Discworld, two universes that are noted below for their love of footnotes. In fact, most of the actual story is told in the footnotes, as Thursday is using her footnoterphone to contact the Librarian.
  • Early chapters in Girl Genius fanfic Raised by Jägers have footnotes, usually to give a little bit of exposition on Agatha's ancestors.
  • In Total Drama Island by Gilbert and Sullivan, Footnote Fever manifests in two ways:
    • Because the compilation uses so many verses, and to preserve some sense of Gilbert's stories, the verses are segregated into a separate section. A cross-referencing system enables the reader to move quickly between the plot summaries (called the Guide To Incidents) and the verses.
    • Many of the more obscure terms in the verses are marked either with underlining (in the web-based version) or a different color font (in the PDF version) to indicate that they have Glossary entries.
  • Warriors of the World occasionally has footnotes scattered throughout chapters to shed background worldbuilding info on any odd terminology and names, and to translate Rogue Slang and Morrocian if it's not translated in-universe.
  • The Slash Fic parody Why B'Elanna is Straight has "A footnote on the subject of tribbles" that's longer than the story.



  • Seen a lot in magazine Science Fiction written in the 1930s and '40s, about the time editor John W. Campbell was trying to bring scientifiction out of its pulp origins—thus footnotes added a faux air of authenticity (e.g. by stating that "The hyperspace drive was invented by Professor Jones in the year 1980") or scientific Info Dump ("The Asteroid Belt was formed by the destruction of a planet according to Bode's Law.").
  • Dave Barry is a fan of these. He likes to allude to things in the main text, only to have the footnote say that such a thing doesn't exist. He also uses them to give punchlines based on running gags. In fact, the more "serious" the main text becomes, the more the subtitles seem like he's MSTing himself.
  • In his books Trick of the Mind and Confessions of a Conjurer, Derren Brown uses footnotes whenever he wants to talk about something tangential to the main topic. Individual footnotes can frequently exceed five pages in length.
  • Ann Coulter is fond of this trope, frequently pointing to the number of footnotes in her books as evidence that they're meticulously researched; however, it has been pointed out that many of her supposed sources either don't feature the attributed quote at all, or have it in a context that gives it a totally different meaning. She responds to some of those accusations here.
  • There was a minor Victorian poet whose only collection of poems is full of footnotes; in one four-line poem about the death of Lord Palmerston, the footnote is longer than the actual poem. Elsewhere, he'd footnote anything which he thought wasn't clear enough: for example, in the line 'The captain scans the ruffled zone', he footnoted 'zone' and the footnote read 'A figurative expression, intended by the author to signify the horizon.' This need to be unambiguous may or may not have had something to do with the poet's day job as a customs officer. What's especially funny about this is the poet's name: Edward Edwin Foot.
  • Most of pop culture writer Chuck Klosterman's work has copious footnotes. One in Chuck Klosterman IV continues onto a second page.
    • From Killing Yourself To Live:
      "For the next 45 minutes, this short-sleeved man gives me a lot of advice. most of it dwells on a) the importance of loving your wife, b) the importance of hunting dog ownership, c) why we have fewer windmills than we used to, d) what's wrong with the American League, e) how to properly fire an employee, f) why life insurance is a sham, g) how to buy or sell a race horse, and h) the complexity of human relationships, particularly in a business setting."
  • Terry Pratchett uses footnotes a lot, to the extent that a book of his shorter works was called Once More.
    • He even adds footnotes to his footnotes, and footnotes to those. Though almost always, they are there for extra comedy value.
    • One footnote from a Discworld book was included as part of a quotation cited in a non-fiction chapter of a The Science of Discworld book. This footnote (footquote?), in turn, had a footnote explaining all this.
    • In some of the play adaptations, the Footnote is a character; a Lemony Narrator carrying a staff with an asterisk on top, who provides both Exposition and really funny lines from the text, if they can't be worked into anyone's dialogue. At least one version had two Footnote characters who kept interrupting the play and each other.
    • He managed to write a Drabble with a footnote.† 
    • The Unadulterated Cat argues with itself in three-deep nested footnotes.
  • Science writer Mary Roach, author of Stiff, Spook, Bonk, and Packing for Mars, has a habit of throwing in copious footnotes. In keeping with the main text of her books, these footnotes are funny about as often as they are informative.
  • Neal Stephenson's footnotes, oddly enough given his overall propensity for self-indulgent digression, are relatively illuminating for times when it would be really, really awkward to put Pervading Historical Fact X in the period character's head.
  • Jack Vance's science fiction novels use footnotes (as well as epigraphs) for exposition.9
  • David Foster Wallace is just plain fond of footnotes in his fiction and nonfiction.
    • His metafictional magnum opus, Infinite Jest, is 1,079 pages long. 96 of these pages contain the novel's 388 endnotes, some over a dozen pages long. Several literary critics suggested that the book be read with two bookmarks. Wallace uses footnotes in much of his other writing as well.
    • It shows up again in The Pale King, whenever Wallace provides a direct narration.
    • The essay "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" has, at one point, a footnote that simply reads "!".

Fiction, Specific

  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green features many footnotes, in which he says: "[They] can allow you to create a kind of secret second narrative, which is important if, say, you're writing a book about what a story is and whether stories are significant." Most of them exist to translate dialog that's in a foreign language, or to explain the math jokes.
  • Philip José Farmer's Sherlock Holmes/Tarzan crossover, The Adventure of the Peerless Peer, has an altogether unnecessary number of pseudo-scholarly footnotes. At one point Holmes is given the entirely inappropriate line, "Watson, isn't that a*****e firing a machine gun?"; in a dreary attempt at wit, the footnote explores whether Watson in writing this adventure used the wrong number of asterisks, or whether Holmes actually used the seven-letter rather than the appropriately British eight-letter form because the a*****e under discussion was American.
  • In Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess, footnotes are freely used to expand on points, provide backstory, insert jokes and the occasional Shout-Out. Agatha H. and the Voice of the Castle and Agatha H. and the Siege of Mechanicsburg continue the grand tradition set up by the previous books.
  • The annotated versions of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. The latter has a span of four pages that consists entirely of footnotes. Likewise, in The Annotated Hunting of the Snark, it is rare for any page to be less than half footnotes.
  • Angel Child, Dragon Child: Some of the pages have small notes at the bottom that explain to English-speaking readers how to pronounce the Vietnamese words in the text.
  • William Baring-Gould's The Annotated Sherlock Holmes contains footnotes on everything from the most likely location of Watson's war wound to a recipe for a particular dish mentioned by Holmes.
  • The Athenian Murders, by Jose Carlos Somoza contains many translator's notes, some of which run for entire pages. While they're initially only about the text itself, the translator, a character in his own right, soon begins to write his research into the text and eventually about his kidnapping, so that the footnotes contain an entire (sub)plot that turns out to be integral to the story.
  • YA-novel Bad Kitty 2006 loves using footnotes that contain funny arguments between characters or snark about minor characters. Sometimes, the main character will paint the medium by yelling at the other characters to get back up to the story.
  • Parodied in John Moore's comic fantasy novel Bad Prince Charlie, which contains the following footnote early on:
    This looks like a good place for a footnote. Terry Pratchett and Susanna Clarke use lots of footnotes and they write bestsellers, so maybe I should also throw in a few.
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. Used to reflect the fact the narrator, a djinn, can keep track of several trains of thought simultaneously. And basically to add sarcastic and/or bragging asides. It was also a nice method of adding details about people/places without derailing the story's momentum.
    "I could read four stories printed on top of each other. The best I can do for you is footnotes."
    • Toward the end of the last book, Bartimaeus ends up Sharing a Body with Nathaniel. The first time he inserts a footnote after this occurs, he's cut short and back in the main text, Nathaniel tells him to "stop doing that". This is the only time a footnote appears outside the Bartimaeus chapters.
    • Bartimaeus really takes this up to ridiculous heights in the prequel where this is one instance of him putting a footnote inside his footnote when snarking about the abilities of Solomon's ring. To distinguish this from normal footnotes, he uses a star instead of a number.
  • Mordecai Richler's novel Barney's Version uses footnotes as a character device that highlights unreliable passages in the narration. As the editor of his father's autobiography, the narrator's son must correct any of his father's misstated facts. The frequency of these corrections increases as the father falls victim to both hubris and Alzheimer's disease. While most of these changes are minor, a few are essential to plot and character development.
  • Michael Gerber's Barry Trotter parody books used footnotes to expand one-line jokes in the text into paragraph-long comedic monologues that would otherwise break the flow of the narrative. They were funny, too, until book number three.
  • Bartleby y compañía, a novel by Enrique Vila-Matas, is stylized as footnotes to a nonexistent novel.
  • Beauty Queens uses footnotes to make comic asides, fictional pop culture references and describe imaginary products.
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao has a number of footnotes; each one starts out fairly informative but soon turns into a rant against Trujillo, the then-dictator of the Dominican Republic.
  • Piers Anthony's But What Of Earth? consists of the first draft of an early sci-fi book that he authored which was savaged by editors with endnotes indicating all of the editor complaints he found unfounded.
  • Spanish Author J. J. Benitez does this on his Caballo de Troya series. Worst offender from the first book: 3 lines of text, 2 PAGES of footnotes. Note this isn't a deconstruction or parody... its a scifi novel of two timenauts under command of the USAF, landing on Jesus' Jerusalem to "Witness His Life and Death".
    • It's possible that he got it from the Bible, given the theme of the book. It's not certain whether he was making fun of it or trying to emulate it.
  • Castle Dreams, a rather surreal and existentialist entry in John DeChancie's Castle Perilous series to begin with, has oodles of fun playing with spurious footnotes. The topics range from somewhat serious explanations of literary tropes, self-referential textual allusions, and obscure plot points to tongue-in-cheek humor, a hilarious send-up of many fantasy tropes, random comments which have nothing at all to do with the book, and even times where the footnote writer propositions the reader for a date. And that doesn't even begin to describe the preface in which the supposed footnote writer reveals he didn't write them at all (or the preface!), as well as quizzes and tests scattered throughout the novel — usually based on info from the footnotes.
  • A Chorus of Dragons: The books are presented as annotated, edited accounts prepared by Thurvishar (one and three) or Senera (two and four), with extensive footnotes on their part to provide additional context on character motivations, backstory, worldbuilding details and speculation that the characters either don't mention in-text or wouldn't be privy to, alongside the occasional sarcastic remark or quip concerning events they are personally invested in.
  • Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!) novels are, in-universe, Cain's private memoirs being posthumously collated, organized, and published by his associate and sometime-lover Inquisitor Amberly Vail, who often includes footnotes as commentary on certain parts of the stories. As Vail is a character in her own right, and in some respects more reliable than Ciaphas himself, they often provide humorous additions or her perspective on events when she feels Cain's narrative is lacking something.
  • Parodied, like everything else, in The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers. Since they are the autobiography of the Author Avatar, who himself is a parody, the footnotes are all from the Author Avatar and not the author, which makes them very worth reading, as they usually include even more hilarity. Unless they have been inserted by the Translator Avatar.
  • John Hodgman's Complete World Knowledge, being a parody of almanacks, naturally makes good use of these, but More Information Than You Require deserves special mention for going so far as to include a footnote in the title.
  • As a heavily intertextual purported found manuscript, Confessions Of The Fox has many footnotes, both for humorous or personal comments from the narrator and for academic sources and further reading on trans history.
  • The novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon is narrated by an autistic teenager who often pauses the narrative to explain his train of thought, discuss a mathematical problem or clarify his words to make absolutely sure that he doesn't accidentally give the wrong impression (he has a total aversion to lying).
  • The Death Gate Cycle: Within the story itself, the books are imagined as an in-universe account written by Alfred chronicling the series' events. As a part of this, the text is dotted with footnotes providing clarification and exposition on various bits of lore and worldbuilding that would not otherwise fit in the text itself without bogging down the narrative flow, which are presented as authorial asides and clarifications inserted by Alfred and Haplo for the benefit of in-universe readers.
  • The Divine Comedy: Most English copies are at least 50% footnotes, explaining Dante's detailed parody of contemporary Italian politics, extensive reference to Biblical and Mythological sources, and common folk tales that haven't been widely told since the Renaissance. However, there's one notorious instance in the Paradiso where the first ever Dante commenter (his own son and co-writer) admits he doesn't have a clue what Dante was talking about.
  • Drawing A Blank is a fairly straightforward case. The 68 footnotes all relate to items that Carlton is uncertain whether the reader will understand the reference (and show that he has an excellent mind for historical trivia).
  • Alexander Pope's mock-epic poem The Dunciad (multiple versions, 1728-43) is also a mock-scholarly edition. On some pages in the original printings, the footnotes are so extensive that there is room for only one line of verse. Modern editions inadvertently take Pope's joke even further, since most of the footnotes now require footnoting.
  • Articles in the regrettably rare and totally delightful Encyclopedia of Dune are footnoted up the wazoo by a whole board of editors. Not to mention the lengthy and imaginative bibliography.
  • Michael Crichton's novel, Eaters of the Dead (aka The 13th Warrior), contains real and fake footnotes. This was incorporated into the audiobook version of the novel, where the main narrative was read by an actor, while the footnotes were read by Crichton.
  • A scholarly printing of Finnegans Wake may have at least two inches of footnote for every inch of text, just to explain what's going on in any given passage.
  • George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman novels (which purport to be memoirs) contain copious endnotes about the real people and historic events described. (Sometimes these contradict the narrator's memory.)
  • Charles Coleman Finlay's Footnotes is a story told via the footnotes of a missing text.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's lost novel For Us, The Living aptly demonstrates why it was lost with a two-page footnote that explains the backstory of one of the main characters.
  • For Want of a Nail is an Alternate History work where the American Revolution failed, and it's notable for it's extensive footnotes and references to academic books that don't exist.
  • The Get Rich Quick Club, by Dan Gutam, has these when Quincy says a phrase that is confusing to an American audience, since she is from Australia.
  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett uses footnotes to great comedic effect, memorably setting up a king-sized Brick Joke about Elvis. Also, backstory, digressions, gags, and Call Backs abound.
  • The Gospel According to Larry and its sequel, Vote for Larry, have humorous (and sometimes informative) footnotes dotted about the books.
  • Harry Potter: Footnotes show up in the spin-off books Quidditch Through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and The Tales of Beedle the Bard.note 
  • Some editions of the stories of Hercule Poirot by Agatha Christie translate the detective's French phrases into English this way.
  • In William Makepeace Thackeray's The History Of Henry Esmond (1852), the title character's relatives, who are reading the manuscript of his memoirs, occasionally pop into the footnotes to disagree with Esmond's account of various personal matters.
  • When reading The History of Middle-earth one is very conscious that both J. R. R. Tolkien and his son and editor Christopher Tolkien are Oxford professors and so given to exhaustive footnoting and citations.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy uses this as well.
    • Indeed, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy spun off whole other stories in its footnotes, one of which was later expanded into the computer game and book Starship Titanic.
  • House of Leaves weaves much of the plot in its footnotes, often using footnotes within footnotes within footnotes to create "windows" or mazes inside the book. The physical orientation of the footnotes on the page also works to reflect the twisted feeling of the plot (often taking up several pages, appearing mirrored from page to page, vertical on either side of the page, or in boxes in the center of the page, in the middle of the central narrative). Footnotes which become The Long List tend to actually have coded messages inside them.
  • Stephen Colbert's I Am America (And So Can You!) plays with this quite a bit, not just in footnotes but also in sidenotes.10
  • Mark Dunn's Ibid: A Life consists of the endnotes to a fictitious biography whose manuscript was accidentally destroyed.
  • Austrian writer Friederike Mayroecker's 2010 book ich bin in der Anstalt: Fusznoten zu einem nichtgeschriebenen Werk ("I'm at the asylum: footnotes to a nonwritten work") is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • John Norman (author of the Gor series) wrote Imaginative Sex, a book of SF/F sexual fantasies for couples to use in spicing up their sex lives. The fantasy scenes are often interrupted by extremely long footnotes that attempt to rationalise the setting. Or explain the evils of Feminism. Or explain that women wear pants as a way of appealing to the latent homosexual in their man.
  • Michael Lawrence's Jiggy Mccue series has this in every book.
  • Jonathon L. Howard tends to use footnotes in his Johannes Cabal novels, and in Johannes Cabal the Detective there's one that mentions Cabal keeps a collection of his wanted posters, and in a bit of rare vanity his favorite is the one with the highest bounty.
  • Susanna Clarke's novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell has numerous footnotes that mostly detail the history and folklore surrounding the topic of magic. These footnotes regularly take up more space than the main body and occasionally gobble up a whole page.
  • Steven Brust's Khaavren Romances series is in-universe historical romance, complete with pompous in-universe author, Paarfi of Roundwood. Paarfi occasionally footnotes background info (in addition to the copious amounts already there in the text). Brust (the actual author) occasionally puts in a footnote to inform the reader when Paarfi is being less than strictly honest, usually about his own qualifications.
  • Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 uses footnotes to provide sources such as statistics and news articles for the narrator's descriptions of the social context of the protagonist's life. This ties in with the Framing Device; the novel is framed as a report by the titular character's psychiatrist.
  • Leyden Ltd. by Argentine writer Luis Sagasti is a story told entirely through the footnotes of a fictional book whose main text has been allegedly lost.
  • In Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al Franken, Chapter 2 has several Take Thats about Ann Coulter's misleading use of endnotes, which are like footnotes but less easy to reference (because they appear at the end of the book instead of on the same page) and thus easier to lie with. The chapter links to the only two endnotes in the book, the first to set straight a deliberately misleading debunking of a factual inaccuracy in Coulter's Slander, the second simply to point out how hard endnotes are to find. The last paragraph of the chapter abuses footnotes deliberately:
    So that's how you lie with footnotes. Disgusting, huh? But it's not just you who thinks so. Even people Coulter considers friends says she's "a lying bitch," "a horror show of epic proportions," "oh, the poor thing," and "a bitch."
  • Loyal Enemies is generously spiced with footnotes explaining things Shelena isn't bothered to elaborate upon, as well as referring the readers to various Fictional Documents for additional information. They don't say anything on the subject of ghyrs, though.
    • Polish translation bumps the footnote quota even higher, as the editors felt the need to explain to Polish readers old Russian aristocratic titles and weights and measures' system the author's using.
  • As indicated in the page quote, Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine is liberally salted with footnotes to try to catch the little details of a day that one might otherwise miss.
  • Luis d'Antin van Rooten's Mots d'Heures: Gousses, Rames (the title is in French, but when pronounced, sounds similar to "Mother Goose Rhymes"), in which he is allegedly the editor of a manuscript by the fictional François Charles Fernand d'Antin, contains copious footnotes purporting to help explain the nonsensical French text. The point of the book is that each written French poem sounds like an English nursery rhyme.
  • Isaac Asimov's mystery novel Murder At The ABA is told in the form of protagonist Darius Just's account of (fictional) events as told to Asimov. The book contains scattered footnotes in which Just and Asimov snipe at each other, though this comes to an end as the story reaches its climax.
  • The footnotes in The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I mean Noel) by Ellen Raskin are sometimes humorous sidebars but more often wildly out-of-character hints to young readers. One chapter begins with a footnote suggesting that those who are horse lovers rather than puzzle lovers skip to the next chapter.
  • The new-series Myth Adventures novels make a Running Gag of using footnotes to shamelessly plug the old series novels.
  • Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket has many fictitious footnotes referencing non-existing books with great accuracy, so much so that it was itself used as a reference by authors who didn't know any better.
  • Ernest Hemingway's Natural History of the Dead uses a footnote to further satirize the style of a history while making a sardonic statement about the extinction of "humanists" in modern society.
  • Every chapter of The New Humans thus far, ranging from jokes to short character studies, to a few lengthy world building digressions.
  • Nick Of Time has quite a few footnotes, so you aren't forced to read information you don't want.
  • JG Ballard's "Notes Towards A Mental Breakdown" is one sentence ("A discharged Broadmoor patient compiles 'Notes Towards a Mental Breakdown', recalling his wife's murder, his trial and exoneration.") and a series of elaborate footnotes to each one of the words.
  • Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire is an entire novel consisting of footnotes to a poem, the main plot is told through the footnotes of a fictional editor.
    • 400 pages of notes to 37 pages of poetry. Probably qualifies as the most disproportionate amount of footnotes to lines of text in existence.
  • Garrison Keillor (A Prairie Home Companion) plays with this in his book Lake Wobegon Days, which includes lengthy footnotes and a parallel narrative. A "footnote" stretches over the bottom third or half of at least half a dozen pages. Presumably it's not included in the main body of text JUST for the humor value. In one small-print copy, it lasts twenty-five pages.
  • To quote an Amazon review for Real Ultimate Power: The Official Ninja Book, "[w]hile the book is primarily made up of the same material that is posted on the website, the true point of the book is hidden in its footnotes [...] [which] tell the story of a troubled kid who buries himself in a ninja fantasy in order to escape his negligent parents, over-critical teachers and to compensate for his lack of friends." The story of the footnotes and the main text are very different.
  • Return To The Willows, a fan-written followup to The Wind in the Willows does this. The American edition has a number of footnotes to explain British terms, but there are a number of other footnotes, including one explaining the concept of life not being fair, and another directing readers back to the previous footnote when Mr. Toad complains to himself about how unfair things are.
  • The Rivers of London novella What Abigail Did That Summer has several footnotes translating the more impenetrable parts of Abigail's London teenspeak, supposedly written by Professor Postmartin for the benefit of Agent Reynolds, and flavoured with Postmartin's sardonic views about young people and the decline of the language.
  • The Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch is loaded with footnotes. They appear in his Write This Book: A Do-It-Yourself Mystery, which has a footnote below a footnote that explains footnotes. "Usually, footnotes are indicated by a star or stars (plural) like these ***." The *** labeled footnote says "Ha. Made you look."
  • The Seven-Per-Cent Solution uses the footnotes to paint the fourth wall — as is customary for Holmesian fanfic, Meyer claims the story is a missing Watson manuscript, so Meyer comments on Watson's throwaway remarks to other cases, incontinuitous remarks, and historical mistakes. The best:
    (Watson) I believe it was in Julius Caesar that the Bard said 'music hath charms to soothe the savage breast and calm the restless spirit, ...
    (Meyer, in footnote) It isn't.
  • The datasheet for the Signetics 25120 "Fully Encoded, 9046 x N, Random Access Write-Only-Memory" chip, first issued in 1972 as an April Fools' Day hoax, comes with twelve generally humorous footnotes, a few of which are Shout Outs to a similar vintage-1950 joke datasheet for a self-flushing vacuum tube.
  • Simply Weird: The (fake) History of Weird Comics Incorporated, A (fake) Comic Book Company has a total of 47 footnotes!
  • The Spy Gear Adventures series by Rick Barba uses lots of footnotes for comedy.
  • Star Wars has a series of books presented as in-universe documents, where characters have scribbled their own thoughts on the text in the margins.
  • The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien contains extensive and lengthy footnotes in which the narrator expounds the theories and experiments of the great fictional philosopher de Selby. These footnotes span several pages and often overtake the main plotline, and add to the absurdist tone of the book.
  • Thursday Next has her footnoterphone, which people in the Bookworld use as phones or personal radios.
    • More than that, in one of the books, (the third, maybe?) Thursday escapes from danger by escaping into the footnotes of the book. The main story, which had been in the first person up until that point, becomes a very dry third-person narration until she rejoins the narrative once it's safe.
    • A printing error in First Among Sequels meant that footnotes were omitted. Confusing doesn't cover it.
  • War with the Newts by Karel Čapek contains footnotes that encompass several pages, and excerpt from a newspaper in a totally unknown language.
  • T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land is pretty much half footnotes.
    • Made even more egregious when it appears in an anthology, because then you've got Eliot's original footnotes plus the anthology's editor's footnotes. Sometimes the editor even has footnotes about Eliot's footnotes.
  • Robert Anton Wilson's The Widow's Son has very detailed footnotes and when the protagonist starts going insane, the footnotes go insane with him and start mentioning complete irrelevancies.
    • They start out as a parody of the footnotes in The Third Policeman, complete with the discussion of the imaginary philosopher De Selby. Indeed, De Selby actually appears as a character at one point, although it may well be the protagonist's hallucination.
    • A theory is advanced at one point that footnotes are a parasitic lifeform, living off the main text and symbiotic with it. the footnotes to TWS read like a separate novel, a literary infection trying to break into the main text, and succeeding in several places.
  • All over the place in World War Z, a fictional novel about the aftermath of a global zombie war presented as if it were non-fiction. The footnotes refer to real and fictitious events that took place before and during the war, explain unfamiliar terms, etc.
  • The Young Ones cash-in, Neil's Book Of The Dead, has a chapter in which a footnote defining the word "vibe" gets its own footnote, which gets its own footnote, et cetera, until the footnotes take over five whole pages and go completely off track until eventually coming full circle to defining "vibe" again. At which point it becomes necessary to define "deja vu" — in a footnote...

Non-Fiction and Textbooks, Specific

  • In The Daily Show's America (The Book), the sidenotes are to keep up the illusion of being a school textbook, which often have all sorts of bizarre infoboxes in the margins. The footnotes are unexplainable except by Rule of Funny, however.
    • America: The Book also has a faux essay on "How to Filibuster" that's basically a page of footnotes, footnotes within footnotes, symbols that look like footnotes within footnotes...
    • A later "Teacher's Edition" of America: The Book adds another layer of commentary, in the form of angry red notes scrawled all through the book by a history professor who is almost but not quite aware that the book is comedy.
  • The Book of Basketball, by Bill Simmons, has between 50 and 100 footnotes IN EACH CHAPTER. Simmons usually uses the footnotes for entertaining stories that avoid the over 700 page book from becoming too tedious. Because, well, it's entirely devoted to professional basketball. The revised paperback downright has one on the cover noting the update includes more footnotes! (the introduction estimates 70 extra ones)
  • The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody, a collection of humorous historical essays by Will Cuppy, is full of footnotes. Most of them are entirely unenlightening and exist only to tell or extend jokes; one simply reads, "So there."
  • Pierre Bayle's Dictionnaire Historique et Critique follows each brief entry with a footnote (often five or six times the length of the main text) in which saints, historical figures, and other topics are used as examples for philosophical digression. The separate footnotes are designed to contradict each other, and only when multiple footnotes are read together is Bayle's core argument for Fideistic skepticism revealed. This technique was used in part to evade the harsh censorship of 17th-century France.
  • Frank Sullivan's article "A Garland of Ibids" is a short article ostensibly complaining about books that do this a lot, while itself consisting of about two thirds footnotes.
  • The Horrible Histories books and some similar series use this occasionally — the Coping With series in particular loved this trope.
  • The classic article "Vide Infra" from the Journal of Irreproducible Results consists of half a sentence of text and 24 footnotes (including footnotes within footnotes).
  • The Language of Literature (Grade 6): Because this is a textbook used to teach English language reading, there are many definitions given with footnotes, additional questions/challenges in sidebars, certain phrases are highlighted, and sometimes multiple stories/poems share a page.
  • The computer language textbook "Learning Perl" has 3 footnotes on one 119-word section, and includes the footnote "We even discussed doing the entire book as a footnote to save the pagecount, but footnotes on footnotes started to get a bit crazy." 12
    • Hot footnote-on-footnote action?
  • Later editions of books by Oliver Sacks are often hard to read because he adds lots of interesting case details, which happened since the original publication, in the form of extremely long and frequent footnotes.
  • There's a non-fictional (sort of) example in Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity, a paper by Alan Sokal that was essentially a big joke at postmodernism's expense that has the usual footnotes expected in just about any scientific publication. Some are standard footnotes, but others are easily identified as screwball by anyone who has any understanding of what Sokal is talking about. Which the editors of the journal didn't. Which was the point of the whole exercise.


  • In Poland, translation of textbooks made by Jagiellonian University are infamous for going as far as providing footnotes to footnotes of the original footnotes. With Purple Prose. It's not helping that the faculty considers this as a perfect way of doing "proper" translation, banning any other form of it from being published by the university's printhouse. More often than not this ends up with an indigestible book containing more footnotes than actual content.
  • Brave New World: The Portuguese translation includes a footnote for every quoting or paraphrasing of William Shakespeare (usually by John the Savage) containing the source of the quote and the quote in its original form and language. At one point, the footnotes take up half the page. John really likes his Shakespeare.
  • The traditional Chinese translations of The Camp Half-Blood Series make fairly liberal use of footnotes, primarily to explain historical, geographical and cultural references from the Western world and especially the U.S.note  They also make clarifications on Greco-Roman mythological figures and eventsnote , render Call-Backs to previous books more explicit, and explain the occasional pun and specific term.note  Just one book alone can have over a hundred footnotes, and we're talking about a series with 15 main books here.
  • Harry Potter:
    • In the mainland Chinese translations, there are footnotes that are needed to translate English-language jokes (like "It's getting Blacker every day"), as well as ones to change subtext into text (like "This is not a typo, Slughorn just mistook Ron Weasley's name."), and advertising other books in the franchise (like "For more information on [X], please read Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, published by the People's Chinese Publication Company.").
    • The Japanese translation uses a handy fold-out pamphlet to explain all the Western Magic info.
  • Qiang Jin Jiu: The English translation is full of footnotes explaining things non-Chinese readers are unfamiliar with. The translator jokingly nicknamed it "The Novel Where the Footnotes Are Longer Than the Actual Translation" because of this.
    • Fox Demon Cultivation Manual's English version is translated by the same people and also contains footnotes (though usually they're not as lengthy as in Qiang Jin Jiu).
  • The Twilight Saga: The Chinese translation averaged one footnote every five pages; the scene where Edward and Bella discuss their university plans entailed a half page long note on American universities, their cultural connotation, and the mechanics of the SAT.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace: The YouTube subtitles include translator's notes explaining things non-Chinese viewers are unfamiliar with, like the difference between difujin (official wife) and cefujin (second wife or concubine).

  • Many editions of sheet music have footnotes. Then, there are the ones that go too far.
    • This one has 46 footnotes in 13 pages.
    • This one has over 100 footnotes in 48 pages, and they are printed in two languages.
  • Tom Waits' song "Step Right Up", a parody of sales pitches and advertising tropes, references this toward the end of the song with a paraphrased Bible quote:
    The large print giveth and the small print taketh away.

    Print Media 
  • Following a Margin Notes Arms Race with a rival magazine during the previous console generation, NGamer started using footnotes in its content, with all forms of inversion and parody used by at most, issue six. For example, one review mentioned Alien

  • The Foundation Trilogy: The Encyclopedia Galactica is read as an Epigraph at the start of each story segment, but also interrupts the dialogue occasionally to clarify terms that the audience may be unfamiliar with. Mostly during "Part One: The Psychohistorians and the Encyclopedists".

    Religion & Mythology 
  • The majority of footnotes in holy books are referencing other, similar material, topical guides, or dictionary definitions, or providing an alternate translation, which helps the lay clergy prepare talks and lessons.
    "b. Mana — n. (Heb.) What is that? "
  • Most English translations of The Bible are full of footnotes — generally cross-references to other verses and useful notes that are often repeated over and over, because people treat the Bible as a reference book rather than read it through. Many other notes give alternate wordings to passages, reflecting that the original texts were in several different languages and that translating things can change the meaning in subtle ways, i.e. The Four Loves all being translated to "Love" or a difference between "kill" and "murder".
    • Oxford's Annotated Bible uses footnotes to, of all things, point out where the translator switched a pronoun with its antecedent and vice-versa for better English flow. I know there are inherent problems with translation, dude, but I can trust you with this much...
    • "Study" Bibles can contain as much commentary as text. Notable historical examples include the 1560 Geneva Bible and the 1909 Scofield Reference Bible. The former, having Puritan commentary suggesting limits to the power of the church hierarchy and monarchs, drove King James VI/I to commission a new translation without notes that you may be familiar with. The latter introduced millions of readers to dispensationalist theology and formed a foundation to American fundamentalism.
  • Try Abdullah Yusuf Ali's celebrated translation of the Noble Qur'an, by wordcount, the footnoted commentary is 20-times longer than the holy text it's expounding upon.
  • English-language printings of the Hebrew Bible. One third a page of scripture in English, one third a page of scripture in Hebrew, and then two thirds of two pages of commentary.
    • Or better yet, the classic Vilna edition of the Talmud. On pages with complex ideas or cases, the two major commentaries can take up the entire page, with no room whatsoever for the original text until the next page. Note that these pages contain enough text for probably ten "novel"-sized pages.

    Tabletop Games 
  • GURPS favours sidebars or box-outs (depending on edition) rather than footnotes, but the GURPS-based Discworld Roleplaying Game includes footnotes in order to better emulate its source material. It also has sidebars or box-outs (depending on the edition) — and even footnotes in those.
  • The Dresden Files role-playing books have post-it notes used by Harry and Billy to discuss modifications that might need to be made, or Dresden's trademark snark. Bob the skull also chimes in, often leading Billy to wonder how he's doing that.
  • In the Forgotten Realms setting, there are a set of in-universe travel guides written by Volothamp Geddarm, or "Volo" for short. The books are peppered with footnotes from the Archmage Elminster, who corrects Volo's often erroneous facts, refutes Volo's conclusions, or plain insults Volo's intelligence!
  • Planet Mercenary is presented as a marketing tool for the titular Schlockiverse weapons retailer with comments from the CEO and writing team throughout the book, often conversing with one another. Including the first CEO murdering two writers for maligning certain products and the survivors deposing her.
  • Shadowrun books have footnotes on the pages, but since they're supposed to be paper versions of online texts, the footnotes are comment threads, in-character from characters accessing the pages. Pages on equipment may include notes on where and when or when not to use it, organizations and important people get snarks pro and con, etc.
  • The Warhammer magazine White Dwarf usually doesn't indulge in this, but one series of articles about Wood Elves called "Winter Comes To The Forest" from a few years ago revelled in it.
    • For Warhammer 40,000, the equivalent is found in just about every page of The Regimental Standard, a parody Imperial Guard newsletter done in the same vein as the Imperial Infantryman's Uplifting Primer.

  • The published script of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) is annotated with a great number of footnotes, many of them entirely frivolous; for example, one footnote is a recipe for guacamole. The great number, to be exact, is 11188, but on closer examination footnotes 100 through 179, 200 through 1179 and 1200 through 11179 appear to have been skipped. The radio show includes frequent breaks for "Audio Footnote Time."
  • Men in White was published with a great number of footnotes. The brief ones are usually explanations of medical jargon or the name-dropping of famous doctors. The longer notes range from histories of medical practice to aggrieved rants about Nazi Germany's interference with the medical profession and legal prohibitions against abortion that create a demand for Back Alley Doctors.

    Video Games 
  • The Mad Scientist's assistant in Assassin's Creed is in charge of writing a manual for the main character (and by extension, the player), as he's using a machine that shows his ancestor's memories and operates like a video game. Along the manual, there are various scribbled messages from her boss, including protests about the silliness of having video game-like controls for such a serious research, and how it would be much easier to just do what they want directly (the video game controls are supposed to make the main character feel at ease and explore the memories slowly, as opposed to abrupt interruptions which would be dangerous for his mind).
  • The Feelies-like Game Manual for Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn often ends several descriptions of spells, enemies, and locations with footnotes by Volo — a well-known braggart, being countered by Big E's exasperation at Volo.
  • Every signpost in Exit Path that doesn't have a picture has a message in big letters with an asterisk at the end, then a message in small letters that begins with an asterisk and clarifies the previous message. This being a dystopia, the bigger message is typically a blatant lie and the smaller message always resembles something out of Paranoia.
  • The REPCONN Museum in Fallout: New Vegas has a ton of plaques suffering from this.
  • The Infocom game The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1984) included the famous recursive footnote.11
  • Max Blaster and Doris de Lightning Against the Parrot Creatures of Venus contains a number of these (type "footnote n" to see the nth foortnote) in a rather pratchettian vein.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • The Annotated Series is named for the YouTube feature.
  • The first episode of Babe Ruth: Man-Tank Gladiator alone has 18 footnotes.
  • Geek Rage loves using footnotes, going as far as having "***" for a footnote.
  • Isoraqathedh, the author of the pony/altworld crossover Ponies on Lyr uses four different types of footnotes, all of which are used liberally.
  • In addition to the numerous footnotes in his books mentioned above, Bill Simmons now has footnotes on his Internet columns thanks to the launch of Grantland.
  • Sporcle's founder did an article filled with these in discussing disputed countries of their "Countries of the World" quiz. But of course the footnotes are mostly jokes.
  • Why, on this very wiki!
    • This article, duh.
  • Various Uncyclopedia articles use footnotes for extra jokes.
  • Randall Munroe does it again in his science blog What If?, in the entry Frozen Rivers:
    Main text: Melting ice takes a lot of energy, but the ice in this scenario would be spread out in thin strands across the country, so it would all melt pretty fast. [1]
    Footnote [1]: Strangely, solid ice usually melts faster than snow—not only in terms of weight, but in terms of inches melted per day. [2]
    Footnote [2]: Or[3] centimetres.
    Footnote [3]: Woah, I can nest footnotes!
  • Articles on The Other Wiki have "See Also" sections (references to other articles) which in effect are endnotes. In one joke edit in 2007 (which sort of still exists), the "Infinite regress" article got a reference to itself.11
  • This video mocks Marvel's use of the trope when trying to explain the myriad timelines and dimensions.
  • Njal Gets Burned uses footnotes frequently to comment on villain social norms, or just make jokes.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • US Supreme Court decisions are pretty dry reading ... until you start reading the footnotes and realize that just because the justices are the highest legal authority in the U.S. doesn't mean they won't bicker and snark at each other like grade-schoolers. This isn't limited to Supreme Court decisions, either. Snarky, snide, or just plain funny footnotes can be found in decisions from every level of the court system.
  • A celebrated Canadian judgment, Bruni v. Bruni, is best known for its relentless snark against both parties in a matrimonial action, and uses a considerable number of footnotes to complete the comic effect:
    [11] Catherine and Larry were married on October 7, 1995. If only the wedding guests, who tinkled their wine glasses as encouragement for the traditional bussing of the bride and groom, could see the couple now.
    [19] On November 21, 2006, Catherine demanded $400 from Larry or her brother was "going to get the Hells Angels after me".
    [71] Larry, who regularly drives by the residence of Sam and Catherine, "often shoots the finger" 21  at Sam and, on about three occasions, has yelled, "Jackass, loser." 22 
    [73] On August 14, 2007, Larry sent three text messages... to Catherine within a space of four minutes, saying, "The game is just starting. Prepare yourself for a long winding road"; "Busted! Always look in your rear view mirror"; and "Blood isn't always thicker than water." Two days later, he texted, "Loser! Home-wrecker!" 24 

9. In other words, his footnotes expand upon brief mentions of persons, places or institutions named in the text, for the enlightenment and edification of the reader.
10. Based on the Colbert Report segment "The Wørd", in which onscreen sidenotes are used to counterpoint Colbert's monologue.
11. This is the famous recursive footnote.11
12. It should be noted that Perl is a language which prides itself on compactness, and as a point of pride, many perl programmers will resort to barely-readable flurries of constructs in the name of, say, writing an entire web server in only three lines of code.
13. There is no reference to this footnote. How did you get here?14
This page incorporates CC-BY-SA material from the English Wikipedia article on Footnote. A list of its contributors can be read on its history page.

Alternative Title(s): Fun With Footnotes