TL;DR contemporary writers use ‘above’ and ‘below’ for intratextual referencing—how long has this been the case, and did this usage coincide with the introduction of PC publishing software?

I have noticed a number of paper and book authors referring to previous or upcoming parts of their work using the terms ‘above’ and ‘below’, rather than only using those terms for reference within the current page. In my (anecdotal) experience this usage seems to be the norm in contemporary writing.

It seems to me that it would have made little sense back when works were hand-composed into books, where a physical reference like ‘overleaf’, a temporal reference like ‘previously’ or an absolute reference to ‘§ whatever’ would be more intuitive. However, it makes sense conceptually when you consider how a document-in-writing is presented by default in desktop publishing software and LaTeX: as a continuous series of pages aligned top-to-bottom, or as a continual document of markup.

My theory, then, is that this usage of document-wide ‘above’ and ‘below’ references will coincide with the introduction of dekstop publishing and typesetting tools in the 70s/80s, and that before this point these would only have been used to refer to things within a given page. I am not familiar enough with Google Ngrams to determine this myself though.

  • 1
    As far as I remember, expressions like see below have always meant 'later in the book', not just 'lower down on this page'. Nov 14, 2019 at 11:11
  • Addressed in FF's answer here. Nov 14, 2019 at 12:12

2 Answers 2


OED has a definition of below with seventeeth-century citations:

5. With regard to writing: further down on the current page; later in the text; in a subsequent paragraph, passage, etc.

1645 J. Gʀᴀᴜɴᴛ Christians Liberty to Lords Table Introd. 1 The knowledge of the truth moved mee to write these eight Arguments, below specified.
1694 W. Sᴀʟᴍᴏɴ Iatrica ɪ. v. 292/1 He may use the pills below described.

  • Yes, but at least there those are adverbs modifying past participles; they aren't talking about “below arguments” or about “below pills” as we seem to often hear from ESL students. :)
    – tchrist
    Dec 14, 2019 at 17:39

You can find references in Google Books for 'see above' and 'see below' referring to completely different pages in books from the 19th and early 20th century:

'See below': The Statutes at Large, Passed in the Parliaments Held in Ireland: From the third year of Edward the Second, A.D. 1310, to the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth years of James the First, A.D. 1612, inclusive (1804).

'See above': Index-catalogue of Medical and Veterinary Zoology: Subjects : Trematoda and Trematode Diseases, Volume 1 (1908)

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