As a professional indexer I belong to a couple indexing listserves so that I am able to continually learn and improve my indexing skills.

The other day one of the threads provided an amusing anecdote that I thought I would share with you.

Now indexers come into their profession through a variety of ways. Many were librarians and, thus, already knew a lot about how to organize information and appreciated the merits of a good index. Many others came to it as a side service they offered along with their editing skills. Some wrote an index for a friend’s book then decided they liked to index and would explore that profession further. Others, like me, just happened upon it accidentally. Never gave any thought to how an index appeared at the back of books but just knew how useful they were when required to look up some specific fact.

But, whatever the path, most of us came to indexing with a degree of interest and eagerness.

Not true for all “indexers.” Some were dragged kicking and screaming to the task. One of these indexers came to my recent notice.

There is a classic example of this type that was discussed on one of my listserves. From subsequent comments it appeared that this example was well known among pediatricians.

Intrigued, I, of course, went immediately to Google and searched. And there at the very first entry I found what I was looking for:


A Dr. Waldo E. Nelson wrote the Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. As a “contribution to their education” the doctor enlisted the help of his children in writing the index. (Keep in mind, in those days, index cards were used—not the spiffy indexing softwares available to us today).

 Unhappy at being recruited, his daughter, Ann, included the entry:

  “birds, for the”    1-1413

This entry only lasted for the seventh edition (1959) of the text. Dr. Nelson did not feel that it was appropriate to keep it for further editions.



*Lawrence Altman, “Waldo Nelson, 98, Author of Pediatric Text,” New York Times (9 March, 1997)