Today I am marking up a 1961 Pelican paperback of a book called Language in the Modern World, which was reprinted for about a decade before it presumably went out of date.


It’s very slow marking it up, I’ve been working on it since about half past ten and I’ve only done nine and a bit pages so far. I have to read slowly and mark with pencil almost every single word with its relative importance in the sentence and any significant relations it has with other nearby words. There are only a limited number of marks I can really make if I want to keep track of them without drawing attention away from the words. I make small or word-sized circles, single underscores, double underscores, zigzag underscores, horizontal crossing out, square brackets, round brackets, rectangles around words, double underscores at an angle, curved and straight lines, and arrows.

This limitation means it’s very difficult to mark down in any kind of a useful way the semantic relations between words as they appear on the page. The pencil marks are inadequate to keep hold of the way the words indicate one another as I read them, and as soon as I’ve finished the words or (at a stretch) the sentence I’m on, the annotations are as opaque as the writing. Sustaining the process is very stressful and needs complete concentration or it ceases to be in earnest.

(a nod to the anonymous reader of The Distribution of the Sensible)