Tuesday, August 14, 2007


I used to have the following as a sig:

* “If the reader does not understand this word, it is too bad.”

Best Footnote Ever, from p. 59 of Rats, Lice and History
(and brought to my attention by SWMBO)

I suppose I should qualify that epithet to “Best Academic Footnote Ever,” since the footnote to which I most often refer people is not only in a different book altogether, it is in a different sort of book altogether.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett is the funniest novel about the coming of the Antichrist that you will ever read. The premise is that the Spawn of Satan was, through bureaucratically designed accident, switched with a normal child. The effect is that those responsible for seeing to the Dark Child’s preparation and training are wasting their efforts with a thoroughly unsuited pupil, while the child with Hell’s powers is being reared in a bland British suburban setting. The book is populated with comic characters both mortal and immortal and peppered with a most entertaining set of footnotes. My favorite of those is informative and dry with just the right amount of snark; it comes upon the revelation that a particular member of the Witchfinder Army, name of Newt, is paid one old shilling per annum (p. 178 in my edition):
NOTE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE AND AMERICANS: One shilling = Five Pee. It helps to understand the antique finances of the Witchfinder Army if you know the original British monetary system:

Two farthings = One Ha’penny. Two ha’pennies = One Penny. Three pennies = A Thrupenny Bit. Two Thrupences = A Sixpence. Two Sixpences = One Shilling, or Bob. Two Bob = A Florin. One Florin and One Sixpence = Half a Crown. Four Half Crowns = Ten Bob Note. Two Ten Bob Notes = One Pound (or 240 pennies). One Pound and One Shilling = One Guinea.

The British resisted decimalized currency for a long time because they thought it was too complicated.
So there it is. I think Chesterton would happily accept the book’s dedication to himself. Read the reviews & descriptions at Amazon (linked in the title of this post) and then waste a few hours wiping tears from your eyes. It beats doing actual work.


Dan Guy said...

I love "Good Omens"!

(I'm do freelance web work for Neil.)

Gashwin said...

Oh I used to be so familiar with the old British coinage -- one of the advantages of going through a philatelic phase as a teen. All those old stamps denominated in "s" and "d" (for denarius, or penny).

India had a similar system (3 pies = 1 paisa. 4 paise = 1 anna, 16 annas = 1 rupee) and decimalized around the same time as the Gora Sahibs did. 25 paise and 50 paise coins were still called "4 anna" and "8 anna" after decimalization. Not anymore, cause who sees paise these days?