plural noun

mar·​gi·​na·​lia ˌmär-jə-ˈnā-lē-ə How to pronounce marginalia (audio)
: marginal notes or embellishments (as in a book)
: nonessential items
the meat and marginalia of American politicsSaturday Rev.

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Where does marginalia come from?

In the introduction to his essay titled “Marginalia,” Edgar Allan Poe wrote: “In getting my books, I have always been solicitous of an ample margin; this not so much through any love of the thing in itself, however agreeable, as for the facility it affords me of penciling suggested thoughts, agreements and differences of opinion, or brief critical comments in general.” At the time “Marginalia” was first published in 1844, marginalia was only a few decades old despite describing something—notes in the margin of a text—that had existed for centuries. An older word, apostille (or apostil), refers to a single annotation made in a margin, but that word is rarely used today. Even if you are not, like Poe, simply ravenous for scribbling in your own books, you likely know marginalia as a telltale sign that someone has read a particular volume before you.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Hawthorne’s juvenile marginalia are similarly revealing, as seen in his childhood Latin textbook. Ted Scheinman, Smithsonian Magazine, 9 May 2023 Housed at the East Hampton Library in New York, a surviving copy of this pamphlet features marginalia added in 1798 by John Lyon Gardiner, who as a child witnessed an August 20, 1780, meeting between André, Simcoe and Henry Clinton (the British commander-in-chief in America). Claire Bellerjeau And Tiffany Yecke Brooks, Smithsonian Magazine, 16 May 2022 The interstitial collage elements play the role of footnotes, or more accurately, the marginalia of a slightly older, wiser reader revisiting a beloved book. Christina Catherine Martinez, Los Angeles Times, 30 Jan. 2023 The messier aspects of a person’s life are treated as marginalia. Lovia Gyarkye, The Hollywood Reporter, 22 Sep. 2022 Outside of a few brave diplomats on the marginalia of American strategic policy, America is still largely mute. Craig Hooper, Forbes, 3 Aug. 2022 The real creative triumph is in the throwaway bits—the screenwriting marginalia. Kyle Smith, WSJ, 16 June 2022 Cobain’s written and sonic marginalia continue to be excavated and parsed, from the 2002 book Journals to 2015’s album and documentary Montage of Heck. Brad Shoup, Billboard, 24 Mar. 2022 The strikethroughs and marginalia of Sylvia Plath’s manuscripts can deliver multiple monologues, showing us all that the finished poem leaves unsaid. Washington Post, 8 Feb. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'marginalia.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


New Latin, from Medieval Latin, neuter plural of marginalis

First Known Use

1819, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of marginalia was in 1819


Dictionary Entries Near marginalia

Cite this Entry

“Marginalia.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Jun. 2023.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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