Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Marginalia

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is marginalia. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Marginalia is a plural noun that refers to notes or other marks written in the margins of a text, and to nonessential matters or items. 

// The students loved flipping through their literature textbooks to find the marginalia left behind by former students.

// She found the book’s treatment of not only the major events but also the marginalia of Scandinavian history fascinating.


“The last time I wrote about culling books—six years ago—nostalgia was my biggest obstacle. Just about every book I opened contained some sort of ephemera that stopped me: a bookmark from a long-gone bookstore, a scribble from a mostly-forgotten college class, an old photograph or letter, or, most nostalgic of all, my late father’s signature and marginalia.” — Laurie Hertzel, The Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 14 Aug. 2020

Did You Know?

In the introduction to his essay titled “Marginalia,” Edgar Allan Poe wrote: “In getting my books, I have always been solicitous of an ample margin; this not so much through any love of the thing in itself, however agreeable, as for the facility it affords me of penciling suggested thoughts, agreements and differences of opinion, or brief critical comments in general.” At the time “Marginalia” was first published in 1844, marginalia was only a few decades old despite describing something—notes in the margin of a text—that had existed for centuries. An older word, apostille (or apostil), refers to a single annotation made in a margin, but that word is rarely used today. Even if you are not, like Poe, simply ravenous for scribbling in your own books, you likely know marginalia as a telltale sign that someone has read a particular volume before you.

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