In some (old, fiction) books, each chapter begins with a few sentences that summarize, or rather hint at, the developements in the chapter. For example, the first chapter of "Three Men in a Boat", by Jerome K Jerome (Project Gutenberg edition) commences thusly:

Three invalids.—Sufferings of George and Harris.—A victim to one hundred and seven fatal maladies.—Useful prescriptions.—Cure for liver complaint in children.—We agree that we are overworked, and need rest.—A week on the rolling deep?—George suggests the River.—Montmorency lodges an objection.—Original motion carried by majority of three to one.

Does this thing have a name? (I'd be interested in answers for at least Swedish, English, and French.)

This is only marginally on topic, but in my defense, I can't design it if I don't know what to call it! :-)


1 Answer 1


I don't think there is a specific word for this. We know for sure that it is a chapter sub-head (leaving aside the fact that this book includes no chapter headers).

It is also a chapter outline but its placement at the front of the chapter is purely stylistic. In fiction this seems to have been used as a tool to heighten comedy.

I note that google books has a full-view scan of an American printing circa 1895-1900 or so that does not have these sub-headers but I don't know it that indicates they were placed in the other version(s) by the publisher rather than the author. Books by English authors have been known to lose whole chapters in American printings.

It could be called a chapter synopsis but you'd probably get into an argument with someone about whether this qualifies as a synopsis: some people proclaim a synopsis is spoiler free and not so granular.

One might call this an epigraph, but be prepared for fisticuffs if you want to hold firm to that.

It isn't limited to fiction by the way: such chapter subheads are often in technical documents as a way to help jog the memory without needing to read the whole thing if one is searching for information.

This might be considered a form of topical subhead but modern usage of that term is severe and highly specified.

  • 1
    Now I'll start writing design documents at work with headings like "Section 3, in which we encounter the GadgetProviderFactoryImpl and barely avoid a deadlock". :-) Jul 30, 2021 at 8:47
  • you joke, but technical documents would be more fun if more people did that!
    – Yorik
    Aug 3, 2021 at 14:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.