As I’ve often mentioned, I love words—the sound of them, their meanings and nuances, and especially their etymology. And I love learning new words. Far from being embarrassed when I encounter an unfamiliar word, I embrace the opportunity to expand my vocabulary.
So recently, when I came upon “marginalia” in my reading, I broke it down to what I figured was its base, or root: margin. And in context, I surmised that it must mean the notes people write along the edges of a book.
Of course, I looked it up just to make sure. And then, feeling smug, I queried four of my more creative friends, cheating by giving them just the word without the context.
The first said it sounded like a hybrid flower, maybe a combination of marigold and dahlia. The second said she was pretty sure it was margarine without the saturated fat. The third said it probably had something to do with genitalia, and the fourth suggested there might be a cream for that.
I do so love my creative friends.
But they had not been privy to the context in which I first encountered the word, or most likely all four of them would have come to the same conclusion I had. Marginalia are indeed the scribbles, comments and other notations written in the margins of the book.
Mark Twain was noted for his marginalia, so I’m thinking it’s probably a good thing he died a century before the advent of eBooks. I’m sure the beloved American humorist would have had plenty to say about them. Perhaps he’d say that eBooks were a marginalia technological advancement.