The End Matter: The nightmare of citation

Louis Menand has written an amusing—occasionally hilarious—article in The New Yorker on citation and style.

Any of us who wrote a term paper pre-computer will be reminded of the all-nighters.

As you are typing note 65, you realize, many pages too late, that you have two note 11s. You discover that you have been op-citing a work that you never cited. You curse yourself for not buying the corrasable bond. Flakes of whiteout litter the surface of the now unpleasantly hot Smith-Corona. You have started to make corrections with a pencil. You look at the page you just pulled out of the typewriter. It looks like a ransom note.

Menard, a Pulitzer prize winning author and Professor of English, has nearly as much trouble with today’s tools.

The potential for rage and heartbreak is even greater, in fact, for the very technology that is supposed to speed the task of information-processing is now your most insidious foe.

First of all, it is time to speak some truth to power in this country: Microsoft Word is a terrible program.

He saves some of his most amusing, yet biting commentary for the newly revised Chicago Manual of Style.

The problem isn’t that there are cases that fall outside the rules. The problem is that there is a rule for every case, and no style manual can hope to list them all. But we want the rules anyway. What we don’t want to be told is “Be flexible,” or “You have choices.” “Choice” is another of modern life’s false friends. Too many choices is precisely what makes Word such a nightmare to use, and what makes a hell of, for example, shopping for orange juice: Original, Grovestand, Home Style, Low Acid, Orange Banana, Extra Calcium, PulpFree, Lotsa Pulp, and so on.

In all a delightful trip through footnotes and endnotes, then and now.