04 April 2006


Whatever happened to "indices"?

My uncle (among others) asked me, "Is the word indices no good anymore? It seems that indexes has won."

I didn't know those words were contesting, but yes. If a U.S. winner were to be declared today, I'd have to go with indexes.

Although strictly speaking the correct term is indices, I think in common speech a distinction has been made for an item that is rarely plural. For example, when referring to an appendix in the back of a book, often there is more than one: appendices. However, when referring to the (vermiform) appendix in the human body, rarely do you talk about more than one at a time, and thus "appendixes." (And then there's the acronym, APPENDIX, which simply doesn't count.)

With book indexes, there is rarely more than one -- although you can certainly talk about the indexes across the books, as I do. But in database programming and similar constructions, often each line in the database (each record) has its own index. And so you can have thousands of indices. When you're working with indices (as opposed to indexes), you're working with large quantities of small bits of information.

To me, this logic is what's also behind such oddities as the words "persons" and "peoples." These terms, though related, are attempts at showing quantity in environments where quantity is much less likely. Said another way, these words are attempting to emphasize the value of the singular, even while referring to more than one. Thus "persons" is used in legal contexts where the individual is important, "people" is referring to a group of beings in which individuality is not important, and "peoples" is referring to a collection of groups of beings in which the nature of each group remains important.

How's THAT for an answer?

Of course, the only real test is if there are other words that seem to follow the same pattern. So far, I can think of only index and appendix. Others?


02 April 2006


Standards in the indexing community

The American Society of Indexers has been deluged with opinions regarding its venture into credentialing individual indexers. Leaving aside all legitimate concerns about the implementation of credentials, there are still many strongly voiced opinions about whether credentialing is a good idea in the first place.

One thing about indexing certification and index standards building that I keep getting stuck on is the question of who they're really for. There are indexers who believe credentialing will impact all indexers in a negative way, or just ASI members. There are many who suspect new indexers will benefit, and that everyone else will get hurt.

But I don't believe the truest benefits to standards building are about the individual indexer. There will be effects, and certainly those effects will be different for different people, but the whole reason standards are created are to improve the industry as a whole. At least, that's how I understand it.

There is a standard for indexing already out there. It's the ISO 999 standard. Does it benefit you? If you were indexing when it was updated in 1996, did you feel any repercussions in your business? Gosh, it sounds as if I'm joking.

Recently I learned that Massachusetts now requires carbon monoxide detectors on every floor. That means I need to install two more in the house. If I don't install them, I won't have a problem until I attempt to sell the house. And truthfully, I'm kind of annoyed that safety regulations are being pushed onto me -- the vehicle seat belt law, the bicycle helmet law, and now this. I'm not saying that seat belts and helmets are stupid things, but I don't like feeling forced into wearing them.

ASI is attempting to create a standard -- certainly one that is harder to define than "wearing a seat belt or not," I'll freely admit -- and so yes, it is a bit disconcerting to be on the receiving end. I'm doing just fine without my carbon monoxide detectors, and I'll do just fine without professional credentialing.

But ask yourself if you believe in the ideal here. Do you believe that standards *should* exist? You don't have to.

I do.

There are many industries that survive very well without some kind of license, certificate, or degree, and some might think that indexing is one of them. But no matter how it affects me personally, I really believe indexers should be a part of a larger entity, something more important than a simple networking community. Do we -- and I mean ALL of us who write indexes -- have anything in common? Do we have anything to fight for as a group (other than higher rates)? Nah. As an industry, we really don't stand for anything without a standard. We're just a bunch of word inventors -- tinkerers -- working alone in our attics.

Most days, I'm fine standing for nothing. I like my income, I like most of my clients and projects, and I absolutely love being able to work at home and raise a daughter who stops to smell the flowers. Some people like Sudoku and crossword puzzles; I like indexing and teaching.

Other days, I feel like someone bailing out a rowboat with a hole in it, with indexes as buckets. I am frustrated by a complete lack of growth in the industry, by repeating myself to every new production editor I meet, by fighting for the right to use page ranges or decent indexing software, and again and again by having to justify my very reasonable rates.

The deeper meaning that can come from credentialing also comes from other things: professional development, education, and research -- including all those great index usability research ideas. Credentialing isn't the only pursuit of this association, nor would it truly succeed in isolation. But I need to be a part of an association that advocates not just for its individual members, but for the meaning of the industry itself.

Credentialing can be part of the solution.

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