I research Latin texts which discuss a peculiar medieval practice: the addition of minute graphic symbols into the margins of the page, for example in order to indicate passages of interest, flaws in argumentation or for some other technical purpose. The Latin-users had a very clear technical terminology for such signs: they called them notae (sg. nota) and the verb that they used to talk about this addition was adnotare (plus there was a whole range of words that could be formed from these two). Modern English does not seem to have a term that would have the same technical meaning and I have a constant problem with both native and non-native English speakers when I am trying to write or speak about these notae.

I have tried the English word markup (and its derivates), but this did not find favour with my audience. Translation as signs or marks is too vague and broad to be helpful. I cannot use the Latin word nota indefinitely, especially since I cannot make a verb out of it that would make sense in English.

What would you call this 'thing'?

An example of the technical signs in question: http://daten.digitale-sammlungen.de/bsb00054504/image_69 (PX- and PO-shaped symbols in the right margin)


I would call those additions marginalia:

notes in the margin of a book, manuscript, or letter

[C19: New Latin, noun (neuter plural) from marginālis, 'marginal']

As for a suitable verb, try annotate.

  • Fermat's Lost Theorem famously wouldn't fit. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 11 '14 at 8:36
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth - Which explains how it got lost... – Erik Kowal Jun 11 '14 at 8:37
  • Thanks for a suggestion. The thing is that I have been using the word symbolic marginalia to refer to these signs, but I was criticized and I droped the term. The word marginalia alone does not suffice, since it refers to any kind of activity in the margin of the page, including textual annotations, doodles, graphs and diagrams, not specifically to the use of technical signs. At best, it can be used with a specifying adjective, but I could not come up with any that would be inambiguous. If you could think of any particular adjective, that would be helpful. – fox Jun 11 '14 at 12:40

Postil {Postiling} or {Postilling}.] To write postils, or marginal notes; to comment; to postillate. [1913 Webster]

Apostille or Apostil n. deriv. of apostiller to add marginal notes, postilla marginal note

Scholium A marginal annotation; an explanatory remark or comment; specifically, an explanatory comment on the text of a classic author by an early grammarian. [1913 Webster]

  1. A remark or observation subjoined to a demonstration or a train of reasoning. [1913 Webster]

If you are looking for a key to read the symbols. or google "ecclesiastical logograms"

  • I would not consider these scholia. Scholia are specifically grammatical explanations in Classical texts in my experience. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 11 '14 at 10:00
  • Thanks, but scholium and postilla (and also gloss, commentary and marginal note) all refer to textual annotations and not to graphic signs. I need specifically a term for technical symbols/signs/graphemes, also to distinguish them from glosses. – fox Jun 11 '14 at 12:50
  • As mentioned above, they are <b>'logograms'"</b>: "1) Logograms: symbols representing specific words "2) Phonograms: symbols representing specific sounds "3) Determinatives: symbols used for classifying words" -BTW they are most often referred to as symbols and were often specific to the author(s)/publisher – Third News Jun 11 '14 at 17:42
  • @JanusBahsJacquet, google Cicero "Ad Atticum" 16.7. + 1st century BCE + scholium – Third News Jun 12 '14 at 2:52

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