Catchwords, the first word of the following quire, were written on the final page of each quire from about the end of the eleventh century. The practice became widespread in the mid sixteenth century, and prevailed until the arrival of industrial printing techniques late in the eighteenth century. In Italian books of the era 1470-1500 they first appeared at the end of a section, later at the foot of every page. Their use in England was from c.1530 to 1800, usually on every page (Glaister).

A Catchword is the first word of the next leaf or gathering appearing at the bottom of the previous one, to ensure continuity.

Catchwords are situated on the direction line, at the bottom of each page where there is an extra line below the text. Catchwords can be found above or beneath the footnotes: their position in  relation to footnotes, even though variable, is a a bibliographical point to be noted, with a special emphasis on variation from a customary practice established in any book.

If the catchword consist only of the latter portion of a word, the beginning is supplied in parentheses. Punctuation following the catchword, or in connection with the following word, is treated as an integral part of the word.

The catchwords are transcribed in quasi-facsimile without quotation marks, so each word is given the exact form in which it appears as a catchword (Bowers 300) .

Catchwords differ in brief books than in longer books since in the first catchwords for each gathering are suitable, but in longer books a wider selection is required with more concentration on abnormalities, but with at least a few normal words at the end of some gatherings.

The Catchword’s purpose was to assist the binder in assembling the book to make sure that the leaves were bound in the right order or that the pages were set up in the press in the right order.

Catchwords are peculiarly adapted to exposing textual disruption, indeed a selection of catchwords is sometimes provided as a partial check for variant states of forms and as a precaution against confusion with issues or editions unknown to the bibliographer, especially when a copy is mutilated.

Finally they are also useful as a partial check on resetting and variation of all kinds and also for assigning imperfect copies to the right edition: they are an aid to assign imperfect copies and to detect internal resetting, and as a means of indicating copy-text, it is often necessary to choose distinctive words, especially words exhibiting errors, or variation , or unusual forms which might be altered in other settings (Bowers 299).

Now I’ll show catchword images from the second edition of Johnson and Steevens’ Plays of William Shakspeare.

As we can see catchwords are also used for titles and indexes.

Glaister. Encyclopedia of the book. Second edition.
Suarez and Woudhuysen. The oxford companion to the book. 1 essays a-c.
Bowers. Principles of bibliographical description.
Gaskell. A new introduction to bibliography.
Greetham. Textual scholarship.
Suarez and McDonald. Making meaning.

Contributed by Maria Letizia Vinci.


One response to “Catchword

  1. Pingback: Catchwords and the Western Isles | Through The Pages

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