Is this a dagger I see before me, footnote toward my hand?
July 14, 2008 7:07 AM   Subscribe

MetaStyle: When using a superscripted dagger (cross) to indicate a footnote, should the footnote at the bottom of the page be preceded by a superscripted dagger or a regular-sized dagger? Should there be a space between the dagger and the footnote?

I'm aware that the dagger follows the asterisk, but as the asterisk generally defaults as superscripted in most fonts, the dagger is where the problem starts to arise.

Bonus points for authoritative links rather than opinions; double bonus points for Canadian authoritative links as that's where I'm located.
posted by Shepherd to Writing & Language (16 answers total)
I'm not earning bonus points due to lack of links, but an analogous use would be using numbers for footnotes. You put the number in superscript to indicate the footnote, but at the bottom, you use a full-sized (normal formatting) number1 preceding the footnote. There would be a space before the footnote.

1. Example footnote here.
posted by explosion at 7:23 AM on July 14, 2008

Standard practice is regular-sized with a hair space, but using footnote-marker symbols is a fairly old-fashioned practice. (It's more common in the US than elsewhere, but not in disciplinary style guides.) The authoritative style guide north of the border appears to be the CP Stylebook, but a lot's going to depend on the subject matter and readership.
posted by holgate at 7:33 AM on July 14, 2008

Response by poster: There's nothing in the CP stylebook, alas, nor the Canadian Style (I have both).
posted by Shepherd at 7:58 AM on July 14, 2008

The default behavior in TeX is to superscript the footnote marker both in the text and in the footnote itself.
TeX isn't authoritative but tends to be well thought out.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 8:31 AM on July 14, 2008

I have always super-scripted both, because that is how TeX does it. I use numbers instead of symbols. A Google search brought me to this footnote page on which seems to be outlining the MLA style guide approach, and they superscript both as well.
posted by mbatch at 9:58 AM on July 14, 2008

"Well thought out" in the above tex reference refers to what computer scientists from the 1970s would prefer. Not what a good graphic designer / print designer / style conscious nerd of the aughts would do.
posted by zpousman at 10:00 AM on July 14, 2008

This is from The Elements of Typographic Style. The author, Robert Bringhurst, is Canadian - although the book is not expressly written for Canada:

Use superscripts in the text, but full-size numbers in the notes themselves.

The full explanation is a bit wordy, so I'll summarize: the number in the text is small to minimize the interruption. In the note itself the number is full-size since it's the whole point of the footnote.

He does not advocate a specific style for the notes regarding spacing. His preference in the book itself is to "outdent" the number from the notes - like a bulleted list might appear. Personally I would add space between the number and the note.

Yes, I know you're asking about daggers and not numbers.
posted by O9scar at 10:42 AM on July 14, 2008

Response by poster: Folks, I appreciate the notes on numbers, but I know what the style for numbers is. I'm covered for numbers. When it comes to footnotes using numbers, I'm a Viking. Just the other day David Foster Wallace and John Ralston Saul had a team-up to try to take me down, but I dropped numbered footnotes until they conceded, weeping like children, that they had nothing on my mad numbered-footnote skills. 'I can't keep up," David Foster Wallace sobbed. "You're so def."

But for some arcane reason, finding any definitive resource on how to handle daggered footnotes eludes me. I've been through the CP Style Guide, The Canadian Style, the Gregg Reference Manual, and the Chicago Manual of Style Online. If anyone out there can give me some sort of solid published answer on how to handle footnote symbols at the bottom of the page, I'd be eternally grateful. The TeX answer is good -- thanks -- but it's a hard thing to cite as a reason to use that style. Our number style is that cited by explosion above, and I can't use that for symbols because a dagger with a period after it would just look goofy.
posted by Shepherd at 11:12 AM on July 14, 2008

Best answer: My copy of "Classical Dynamics" by Marion & Thornton (4th ed., 1995) uses unnumbered footnotes, but has a single well-footnoted page that uses all of the symbols *, †, ‡, #, ##, §, §§. Superscripted symbols also lead the footnotes themselves at the bottom of the page. This is also the style in Jackson's "Classical Electrodynamics." The other books I have in arm's reach use numbered footnotes.1,2

In the absence of any definitive advice, tentatively do whatever you like and ask your publisher / editor / Style Nazi whether they have a strong opinion. I suspect the answer will be to lead the footnote with a superscripted dagger, spaced like the asterisk.

1 The books I have handy using numbered footnotes also lead the footnotes with a superscripted number. Leading the footnote with a full-size number seems less common. Appropriate comment about sample size.
2 This comment footnoted numerically to avoid confusion with the list of footnote symbols above.

posted by fantabulous timewaster at 12:00 PM on July 14, 2008

Best answer: Daggers and asterisks should not be superscript in either the text or in the note itself. I think you're going to have a hard time finding references about the specific case of running superscript symbols in the note, since the general expectation among style guides and typographic manuals will be that the symbol is not superscript in the text, so making it so in the note wouldn't be an issue.

Why word processing programs like MS Word deviate from this is a mystery (the asterisk is already "superscript" -- the character is set to run above the baseline -- so why would you make it even further superscript?), but thanks to their ubiquity, making the symbols artificially superscript has become widely seen as the norm.*

Some examples: In the usage section of the Wikipedia entry for dagger, there is a distinction between using superscript and using symbols: "in modern literature, superscript numerals are used in the place of pictorial symbols."

For a more staid reference, Hart's Rules for Compositors, proofreading guide for the Oxford University Press, also makes the distinction between "superior characters" and asterisks. Unfortunately, the only version available on Google Books is an older one, but the text of this part is substantially the same as in my version. My version also has a note on p. 57 about the use of daggers that is not in the older edition, but the symbol is clearly set on the baseline.

The Chicago Manual of Style, widely used by publishers in the U.S., does not explicitly rule one way or the other but it's clear from 1.) the fact that making these characters superscript is never mentioned and 2.) they never appear as superscript in the text. The electronic version of the CMOS is behind a paid subscription wall, but here's an example:
16.35 Asterisks, daggers, and the like

Where only a handful of footnotes appear in an entire book or, perhaps, just one in an article, symbols may be used instead of numbers. Usually an asterisk is enough, but if more than one note is needed on the same page, the sequence is * † ‡ §. See figure 16.10. Because the sequence of symbols starts over for each page, this system may not be appropriate for electronic works. See also 16.65.

In the paper version, all of these symbols are full size inline with the text as well as in the example table linked as figure 16.10.

You can find many other examples of the symbol in use via a Google Books search for "dagger typography", whereas a similar search for "dagger superscript" yields only special uses in mathematical and technical contexts.

* My guess is that since letters and numbers are superscript when used for notation, it was simpler to put any notation character in superscript type rather than exempt symbols. As a result, this has become de facto standard in many places where documents are composed in Word and then the formatting gets transferred to the typeset version without being noticed by editors or proofreaders. The software and the usage are so ubiquitous that many people assume that its way of doing things is correct.
posted by camcgee at 12:16 PM on July 14, 2008

Best answer: Annoyingly, neither Chicago nor AMA seems to address this issue. Chicago says that reference numbers are full-sized (16.25), but in 16.35, which discusses "Asterisks, daggers, and the like," it is ignored (similarly at 16.63). AMA (2.13.4, p. 62) says "Footnotes are indicated by symbols or letters, which should be set as superscripts before colons and semicolons and after commas and periods. Symbols should appear before and are set close to the footnote text." Before and close to, yes, but superscript or aligned, dammit?

I was sure AMA was going to say to set them full-size and aligned with the footnote text, because that's the way I was told to do it when editing medical publications, but apparently that was the preference of the publisher rather than an official style-guide mandate.

And I just found (via the magic of Google Books) Typing: Two-in-One - Keyboarding and Document Processing, by Archie Drummond and Anne Coles-Mogford, which says "The reference mark in the text must be a superscript. In the footnote it is typed either on the same line or as a superscript." So there you have it: go with whatever looks best to you or your client.
posted by languagehat at 12:36 PM on July 14, 2008

On non-preview:

Daggers and asterisks should not be superscript in either the text or in the note itself. ... the general expectation among style guides and typographic manuals will be that the symbol is not superscript in the text, so making it so in the note wouldn't be an issue.

This is not true. See above.
posted by languagehat at 12:38 PM on July 14, 2008

In the paper version, all of these symbols are full size inline with the text as well as in the example table linked as figure 16.10.

This is not true. I am looking at figure 16.10 right now, in the physical book, and the asterisk is clearly small and superscript. (The numbers are, of course, full size and aligned.)
posted by languagehat at 12:41 PM on July 14, 2008

This is not true. I am looking at figure 16.10 right now, in the physical book, and the asterisk is clearly small and superscript.

It's small and superscript compared to the letters, but it's full-size for an asterisk. As I mentioned in my answer, the asterisk is already superscript by design, so the behavior of programs like MS Word (where the footnote functions will apply an additional reduction in size and baseline shift) is erroneous. Look where the asterisk is positioned on the baseline in the example in 16.35 and then look at the same relative to the image at 16.10. Granted there are differences in the shape of the asterisk and its position based on the typeface, but clearly in all three places, the bottom of the asterisk starts halfway up the ascender height from the baseline and its top is level with the top of the ascender.
posted by camcgee at 1:12 PM on July 14, 2008

To the best of my discernment, the typeface in the CMOS fig. 16.10 example is Minion. If you look at the character set for Minion, the asterisk in the example is the default size for the typeface. Meanwhile, the dagger and double-dagger are the full height of the text and set on the baseline. Certainly there are other typefaces where the type designer has set the dagger above the baseline -- Calibri, for example. However, I don't see any indication other than the default behavior of word-processors that these symbols should be manipulated beyond their design.

Your example of Typing: Two in One does advocate exactly the opposite but personally I don't find it to be a very compelling case in isolation.
posted by camcgee at 2:02 PM on July 14, 2008

Datum: I was reading a novel which used full-sized asterisks and daggers† for footnotes. So both conventions exist in print.
† In the main text, and introducing the note.

posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:11 AM on August 3, 2008

« Older Name that voice   |   Garage circuit breaker problems. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.