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. For example the PX- and PO-shaped symbols in the right margin here:

Manuscript on vellum
(Tenth-century manuscript in the Bavarian State Library)

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'?

  • What this reminds me of are the marks that proof readers make on galley proofs indicating certain corrections to be made in the final proof. These are called proof-reading marks by the Enyclopedia Britannica. These marks were often made in the margins and it's for this reason galley proofs were printed with extra wide margins. Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 9:14

3 Answers 3


The passage from Eusebius you refer to in your question, is, strangely enough, the item used to illustrate my reference for this answer.

According to Mariken Teeuwen items that express approval or disapproval (such as chi-ro - ☧ - who's aetiological story, by a strange twist of fate is documented in Eusebius) are called technical signs or signposts. https://prezi.com/5mkn3-nzzbce/annotating-mss/?frame=10bf74f292dd74100949a9a7184382cdd06f7ff2 The obelus and asterisk were used in this fashion, both as marginalia and as interlinear marks.

From the same source marks indicating passages of interest of importance, specifically with a combined or separate N and T or an N alone, are as you said nota. The manicle (pointing hand) was also used, whether this qualifies as a nota, I don't know, though I would think it is the function that is defining in this case.

Does nota even extend to signposts? I would argue that it does, given that the meaning is simply "a mark" (see below).

Collectively scholia covers all later scholarly annotations, marginalia, as you remarked, all marginal items, including probatio pennae and doodles. Neither of these terms, even in combination, seem appropriate

What, then, to call these marks collectively? If nota is considered too obscure, we can turn to the OED (1st Ed) definition "a mark, or stigmata". Stigmata being as bad or worse, in terms of obscurity, I would plump for "marginal marks" - marks quite nicely fits with glosses which refers only to words or longer pieces of text. I would perhaps prefer symbols but your question rules that out. I think this is sufficiently inclusive, and sufficiently exclusive. If it is feared that marks is too wide a term, then marginal glyphs, but here again we stray into the realm of obscurity.


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. Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 8:36
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth - Which explains how it got lost...
    – Erik Kowal
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 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
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 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. Commented Jun 11, 2014 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
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 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
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 17:42
  • @JanusBahsJacquet, google Cicero "Ad Atticum" 16.7. + 1st century BCE + scholium
    – Third News
    Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 2:52

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