Ig Nobel 5-minute MIT informal lecture

On 4 October 2007 I received the Ig Nobel Prize for Literature at Harvard University. On 6 October I spoke about my research for 5 minutes in the MIT Informal Lectures, and answered 3 questions. The talk and questions follow.

Inconspicuous indexers, and indexers as vegetables

Thank you for this honour.

I work as an indexer – an inconspicuous but thriving profession made up of people whose aim is to help readers find the information they need. Not many people know we exist, thinking instead that indexes ‘just happen’ or are created by computers. Because of this the American Society of Indexers chose the kohlrabi as their official vegetable – no-one knows what it is, either.

Indexes in daily life

My grandmother’s cousin, the American author Worth Tuttle Heddon, published her memoirs under the name Winifred Woodley, in a book titled ‘Two and three makes one’, which led my husband to point out that she was obviously better at English than at Maths! She noted (p.20) ‘This morning I made out a card index for the characters in my novel; keeping up with twenty-seven of them in my mind takes time from the writing’. read more

Ig Nobel Prize acceptance speech

On 4 October 2007 I received the Ig Nobel Prize for Literature at Sanders Theatre, Harvard University, Cambridge. Here is my 1-minute acceptance speech.

Thank you. I work as an indexer – the person who creates the A to Z access points at the back of books, in periodicals, websites, online help – just about anywhere. Few people know that indexers exist, and even fewer know that we worry ceaselessly about how to alphabetise our index terms so you can find them.

‘The’ is a case in point. It’s a funny word that sometimes matters, and sometimes doesn’t. You sort ‘The Bible’ and ‘The Beatles’ at ‘B’, but ‘The Hague’ and ‘The camel’s hump is an ugly wump’ at ‘T’. And that’s before you get to concepts such as ‘the blues’, ‘the pill’, and ‘the undead’. read more

Ignobel Prize for Literature, 2007

On 4 October 2007 Glenda was awarded the Ig Nobel Prize for Literature for an article she had written in 2001 on the problems encountered when alphabetising index entries that start with ‘The’.

The rules differ depending on the type of entry, and they don’t always reflect the way people think about the terms being indexed.

The Ig Nobels are presented at a ceremony at Sanders Theatre, Harvard University. They are a spoof on the true Nobel Prizes, and are awarded for research that makes people laugh, and then think. What they think is up to them. Ten awards are given each year from a pool of about 7000 nominations. Most of the winners this year travelled to Boston at their own expense, coming from 5 continents. Most are offered the opportunity to refuse quietly, but are delighted to win. One said it is a great compliment to have done research that is important enough to be published in a serious journal, but vivid enough to be awarded an Ig Nobel. read more

The definite article: acknowledging ‘The’ in index entries

The definite article: acknowledging ‘The’ in index entries

The Indexer, vol. 22, no. 3 April 2001, pp. 119-122

The 2007 Ig Nobel Literature Prize was awarded to Glenda Browne of Blaxland, Blue Mountains, Australia, for her study of the word “the” – and of the many ways it causes problems for anyone who tries to put things into alphabetical order.

The Ig Nobel prizes are awarded for research that makes people LAUGH then THINK. What they think is up to them.