What do you call the little asides found in the margins of books instead of at the bottom of the page?

I don’t mean the stuff scribbled in by hand, but rather the printed matter used by tasteful authors who have generous margins and which they put to good use.


6 Answers 6


Sidenotes is a common term used to denote the notes, trivia or anything interesting noted by the author on the sidelines of pages of his book. http://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/sidenote

At least one author, Robert Bringhurst in his book "The Elements of Typographic Style" has talked about the importance of sidenotes and their formatting issues.

  • I need to give this one to you, because of the Bringhurst reference.
    – tchrist
    Jan 2, 2013 at 20:59

Marginalia, see Wikipedia: Marginalia or margin note.

In LaTeX the command to typeset a text in the margins of a page is \marginpar (Footnotes and Margin Notes)

  • By origin "marginalia" would seem to be the correct answer, but nowadays, that word carries unavoidable connotations of triviality which aren't shared by "footnote". Hence people making up new words like "sidenote".
    – Marthaª
    Jan 3, 2013 at 0:54
  • @Martha: Unfortunately, that may be true; but marginal notes or marginalia are still better than sidenotes. Jan 3, 2013 at 4:44

Sidebar is a general term for such marginal notes. According to a wikipedia article,

In publishing, sidebar is a term for information placed adjacent to an article in a printed or Web publication, graphically separate but with contextual connection.

The term has long been used in newspaper and magazine layout. It is now common in Web design, where sidebars originated as advertising space and have evolved to contain information such as quick links to other parts of the site, or links to related materials on other sites. Online sidebars often include small bits of information such as quotes, polls, lists, pictures, site tools, etc.

The terms marginal notes, marginal markings, graffiti, and graffito are used to refer to the numerous small sidebars in italics within Concrete Mathematics by Graham, Knuth, and Patashnik. These terms appear in the half-page rationale for the notes, given in page vii of the book's Preface.


I've always known them as marginalia (mainly due to references to Fermat's marginalia), or simply, marginal notes. Apparently, there are a number of synonyms which are also used. These include:

  • 2
    NYT has an interesting article on marginalia. Jan 2, 2013 at 16:30
  • 1
    +1 This is the best answer. I use marginal notes, but marginalia is fine too. Sidenotes may be acceptable, but it has less of a tradition behind it. Jan 3, 2013 at 4:43

You might use the word annotations to describe explanatory text or comments found on the margins of literary works and diagrams.

Since you mentioned printed matter used by tasteful authors, coleopterist's answer made sense to me so I dug a little deeper and found the word text annotation is used interchangeably with marginalia(and it sounds like a more common word too).


Just to amplify what Mohit said in his accepted answer above, here is a quote from the author he mentioned in that answer. This is from where Bringhurst extols the virtues of the kind of notes that he calls sidenotes. I include a little bit of it here particularly since it is not otherwise available on Google Books or elsewhere online, and it is too long to add as a comment. And it is delightful to read.

On page 68 of v3.2 of his Elements of Typographic Style, Robert Bringhurst writes the following (which I merely excerpt here in part; there is rather more to it):

4.3.1    If the text includes notes, choose the optimum form.

            If notes are used for subordinate details, it is right that they be set in a smaller size than the main text. But the academic habit of relegating notes to the foot of the page or the end of the book is a mirror of Victorian social and domestic practice, in which the kitchen was kept out of sight and the servants were kept below stairs. If the notes are permitted to move around in the margins – as they were in Renaissance books – they can be present where needed and at the same time enrich the life of the page.

[two equally charming paragraphs about footnotes and endnotes omitted --tchrist]

‪            Sidenotes give more life and variety to the page and are the easiest of all to find and read. If carefully designed, they need not enlarge either the page or the cost of printing it.

Making this Community Wiki because I don’t want rep from it.

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