I am trying to translate a BOB (back-of-the-book) index of names and themes. Now one theme comes up so often in the book, that it is impossible to include all the pages in the index under that entry.

In the original language (Greek), under this particular theme, I see that the term σποραδικὰ (sporadically) is used. I will include a screenshot of this, to make it clearer:

enter image description here

So I am wondering whether there is such a practice in English indexes of books, and if there is, what term is used. Would it look like:

Theme (sporadically) 21, 50, 52, 62, 111, 137, 183 ?

By sporadically, the author of the index wishes to indicate that not all pages on which this theme appears, will be included in the index. The pages recorded in the index are not successive. They are NOT ALL included, but chosen sporadically, here and there throughout the book.

EDIT: If someone has seen an example of this in the index of a book, I would be grateful if they can include a picture of it in their answer, or at least say they found the term used in an index. If this practice is not really used in English indexes and there is no fixed term for this, than I may be freer in the way I translate it.

  • As I read the question the word "ubiquitous" came to mind.
    – Greybeard
    May 7, 2023 at 16:04
  • Can’t you subindex within the THEME? SANDWICH / about 10 / cheese 12–15, 35 / chicken 35 / freezing 50 ... May 7, 2023 at 16:55
  • @TinfoilHat Not really, because it would be endless, as I have explained. For other themes, subindex is used satisfactorily, but for this particular theme, it would be too much.
    – fev
    May 7, 2023 at 18:08
  • @EdwinAshworth That sounds like a decent solution.
    – fev
    May 7, 2023 at 18:09
  • Can you elaborate on what is meant by sporadically? Are you trying to indicate that you aren’t subindexing because there are too many instances? Or are these only some of the instances? Or put another way: Why do you need a word there? May 7, 2023 at 18:23

2 Answers 2


I believe the index-specific word to replace σποραδικά (sporadically) in your example would be passim (from Latin for here and there, at random).

However none of those means what you describe: selected instances. (An index using selected instances seems a bit oxymoronic.)

Passim is used in various ways.

Here’s an index that both uses passim and describes how it uses it:

In order to avoid printing long strings of useless page numbers after these headings (keywords), they have, wherever possible, been lumped together, in two ways. Thus . . . ‘mother, 144–228 passim’ means the the word ‘mother’ occurs sporadically in these pages but not on every one of them.
Source: Human Reproductive Behaviour A Darwinian Perspective

In your picture, it appears (maybe) that σποραδικά/sporadically indicates the pages where the word appears “randomly.” Those are followed by subindexing where the word is used more contextually.

The thing to note, though, is that The Chicago Manual of Style and many others recommend avoiding passim:

Q: . . . When indexing a book that names the same person literally hundreds of times (it’s about this person’s philosophy), is passim correct in the index? . . .

A: . . . What good is passim? A reader already knows that X is mentioned throughout the book. Professional indexers disagree whether it even makes sense to have an entry for the main subject of a book, but if you do, it must be broken up into many subentries and possibly sub-subentries, so readers can find what they’re after. (In fact, any index entry that consists of more than five or six page numbers should be further broken down into subentries.) . . .
Source: The Chicago Manual of Style Q&A

The answer finishes with this admonition:

Your questions show that you would profit from learning more about indexing before you go further. I suggest you read the indexing chapter of CMOS.

There you can find:

Scattered references to a subject over several pages or sections are usually indicated by separate locators (34, 35, 36. . .). Though the term passim has often been used to indicate scattered references over a number of not necessarily sequential pages or sections (e.g., 78–88 passim), individual locators are preferred . . .
Source: The Chicago Manual of Style (login required)

  • This is all good advice on how to handle the words that appear frequently within a book when indexing it, but it doesn't seem that the OP is engaged in actually indexing the book; the question is about how to translate a particular word in an index that somebody else has already made in a different way. I take it that your answer is meant to imply that there is no word that can do the job that the OP is trying to get done.
    – jsw29
    May 7, 2023 at 21:31
  • 1
    @jsw29 — Hm, I read: “I am trying to compile a[n]... index of names and themes” and assumed the OP wanted to know how to index a word that appears often throughout the book. You can do that using σποραδικά or passim. But neither of those (to my knowledge) indicates “selected instances.” So, yeah, there is no indexing word in English, or Greek, for that — because that’s not how indexing works. May 7, 2023 at 22:18
  • I read the question the same way originally, but see the OP's response to my comment below the question: 'I am not looking for a solution, but for a term to the solution found by the author of the index in the original language'.
    – jsw29
    May 8, 2023 at 15:13

One possibility here is to use the expression selective entries:

selective [adjective] ​ [usually before noun]:

affecting or involving only a small number of people or things from a larger group

[Oxford Learner's Dictionaries]

selective: ...

involving the choice of the most suitable or best:

  • We want to open more branches, make selective acquisitions, and extend our product range.

[Cambridge Dictionary]

An example of this usage is:


Only selective entries are given for certain authors quoted frequently throughout the book (Herodotus, Hesiod, Homer, Pausanias and Pliny)

[Cambridge University Press: Greek Sculpture – Nigel Spivey]

  • I am not sure that selective (or, for that matter, any other single word) would be readily understood to carry the intended meaning if used within a particular index entry, in the way the original author (whose work the OP is translating) dealt with the matter. The example from the end of this answer may, however, suggest the best solution for the OP's problem, not because it contains the word selective, but because it shows that the matter can be dealt with by an explanatory note at the beginning of the index, rather than within the index entries.
    – jsw29
    May 7, 2023 at 21:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.