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Today I was reading an article in The Register, and I noticed this unusual usage:

screencap of *Register* article showing header "bootnote"

I've never seen a footnote called a bootnote before.

The OED doesn't list it, and using OneLook to search over a hundred dictionaries only results in 4 hits, 3 of which redirect, without comment, to footnote, and one which is a false positive¹. Etymonline likewise comes up dry.

Lest anyone jump the gun, this usage is intentional, not a typo, at least in the case of The Register, as Josh and Chris point out in the comments. And while both the BNC and COCA corpora find no hits, nor Google nGram Viewer, the GLoWBE comes back with a few, suggesting that the usage is probably does not predate the internet, but is seeing growth and adoption on it, at least among BrE speakersbn.

screencap of GLoWBE results for *bootnote*

Morphologically, it makes sense: a boot, like a foot, comes at the bottom. But whence this usage?

Who uses it, and when is it used in preference for the more common footnote? Is it merely a Register thing? A broader BrE thing²?

What are its origins? Who used it first, and when? Do we know why? Simply a more colorful or cutesy synonym for footnote? Originally a serendipitous, one-letter typographical error for footnote, which happened to make sense and stuck?

Are there any publications which use both footnote and bootnote? If so, what are the nuances between them? Is it something as silly as a bootnote goes "over" a footnote as a boot goes "over" a foot?


¹ To the Wordnik, which usually captures unusual words with more flavor, simply says "no entry" and notes the word has only been looked up ~200 times.

² There's an identical usage in the Geekzone, which has a .nz TLD, so presumably the writer speaks AusE, which hews relatively close to BrE. But there's no way of knowing if this particular non-Register usage was influenced by The Register, or indeed if it's an innocent typo. But it's evidence of use outside The Register either way.

BOOTNOTE: To be fair, I haven't actually dug into any of those citations to determine if they are all, in fact, from the Register itself.

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    Looks like it is a term of thier own : theregister.co.uk/Profile/bootnote_the_land_of_the_free_ha - theregister.co.uk/bootnotes – user66974 Jun 23 '17 at 14:54
  • It is in fact a fascinating question, but 'bootnote' at first glance looks suspiciously like a typo for footnote, which might explain its rarity and the paucity of definitions. However, since the Register seems to have used it on multiple pages, it might well be a special term they coined, or even an in-house joke/ euphemism! – English Student Jun 23 '17 at 15:07
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it almost certainly is not addressing acceptable usage. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 23 '17 at 15:40
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    @DanBron I've put together what I know/can find out in a few minutes. There's an element of the in-joke, or if not exactly joke then jargon marking an in-group. I suspect it's deliberately hard to pin down. – Chris H Jun 23 '17 at 15:49
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    Given the irreverent tone of The Register, bootnote might come from the sense of boot: 6. Slang. a dismissal; discharge, and from the obvious assonance with foot. – user66974 Jun 23 '17 at 16:31
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Bootnotes is a term commonly used by The Register (a UK-based IT news website). The whole website aims for an irreverent tone (see especially the subtitles, and any headline they can get away with turning into a suggestive pun).

They apply bootnote to stories which are a bit of light relief, and only tangentially (at best) related to IT, i.e. the sort of stories that would be and finally... on TV news. Bootnote can also be used as a direct synonym for footnote when applied to addenda to the articles that are their real work (e.g. US Navy plans self-building floating fortresses).

Sometimes these stories are reenacted using Playmobil; the subtitle for the page collecting such reenactments is

Welcome indeed to El Reg's world-beating miniature coverage of the stories that really matter - and quite a few that really don't, to be honest...

From their own website: No sense of humour? Avoid Bootnotes -- Fridays: A warning from history

Etymologically, it would appear to be derived from a combination of footnote and perhaps put the boot in (i.e. kick, and a phrase they use fairly often, usually metaphorically) but they don't appear to have described it exactly at any point. They're also rather fond of jackboot as a symbol of force, whether applied to the authorities or to Microsoft. Any relationship between bootnote and boot in the IT sense is probably about as coincidental as the relationship between IT and most of the material earning this tag.

Other (mainly tech and related) sites also use it, often in humorous or tongue-in-cheek posts, for example:

  • Slashdot comments (Slashdot has a readership that overlaps with The Register)
  • Geekzone.co.nz (presuambly New Zealand-based)
  • Pistonheads.com
  • A Google groups search shows sporadic use back to about 2000 (quotes are necessary to suppress hits like "...boot. Note...". Interestingly the plural form, unlike the singular, seems almost always to refer to El Reg)
  • More recently searching Twitter suggests it's current, but again many hits are quoting The Register.

Almost all the results for which I can get clear indications of the writer's nationality are British, the rest Commonwealth (1 NZ, 1 Aus)

There are also independent uses, of which this is the most obvious:

The earliest use I can find on the Register is from 2000: Mad Cow toys removed from shelves (apparent earlier hits seem to be dodgy dates as the predate the publication or even the internet). However an earlier reference from the (UK) Naval Review (October 1991, p76) is worth quoting:

A Bootnote From:

Brigadier C. Bootstrop,

Office of the Fleet

Flag Officer

Royal Marines

The Old Sail Loft

Southmouth-by-the-Sea

I September 1995

DEAR Shoot-Through, I was most impressed with your lofty broom cupboard at Canary Wharf and must thank you for the splendid and novel Boil-in-the-Bag lunch in the Directors' Self Help Canteen

as it takes a similar tone. This may also hint at the etymology, as bootneck (or bootie but apparently not boot) is a slang term for a Royal Marine. In fact Lewis Page, editor/defence correspondent at the Register, and a frequent user of the term, has a naval background.

  • @DanBron there's more... – Chris H Jun 23 '17 at 15:59
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    This isn't about the English language in general but about the peculiar non-standard usages of one specific publication. And as such, off-topic. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 23 '17 at 16:00
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    I may have a little more to add; that last edit was made in haste. – Chris H Jun 23 '17 at 16:21
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    With the permission of OP @Dan Bron, you could quote and include the linux reference in the GeekZone (supplied by OP in a comment) in this answer to make it categorical that at least 3 different sources have used 'bootnote' in print / online publication and it was not used by the Register alone. You should hurry because apparently any comment can be deleted anytime by a competent authority, including but not restricted to OP! – English Student Jun 23 '17 at 17:42
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    @EdwinAshworth your vote is of course yours, but usage is on topic; establishing that the use of a certain word is less niche, less jargon than initially thought is a good fit here. – Chris H Jun 23 '17 at 17:45

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