Is there a name for the literary technique of opening a chapter with a series of summary phrases? An example from Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome:

Chapter II

Plans discussed.—Pleasures of “camping-out,” on fine nights.—Ditto, wet nights.—Compromise decided on.—Montmorency, first impressions of.—Fears lest he is too good for this world, fears subsequently dismissed as groundless.—Meeting adjourns.

We pulled out the maps...

Other books I'm aware of that do this:

  • To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
  • Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
  • Making Money by Terry Pratchett
  • 1
    Excellent question. Welcome to the site, by the way. Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 23:18
  • 1
    That's a list of really good books!
    – Dhara
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 8:24

2 Answers 2


One traditional term for it may have been

  • Argument

I'm basing this on the Loeb Editions of the Greek Dramas where there is a synopsis of the play presented at the beginning under the heading "Argument".

Those particular translations tend to be from the late 19th & early 20th Century though, and that usage of the term feels distinctly outmoded.

Rejecting terms like preface, introduction and forward, more mundane choices would be:

  • Synopsis
  • Summary
  • Abridgement

A "classier" term could be:

NOTE: I do seem to recall there is a specific "old-timey" term for this, but it's escaping me at the moment.


Nicholas Dames, in an article in The New Yorker, calls them explanations, although he doesn't indicate if this is a technical term, or simply his own.

Explanations proliferated. Take “The History of Charlotte Summers” (1750), commonly attributed to Sarah Fielding, in which the languid Miss Arabella Dimple, lying half naked in bed, calls her maid Polly to fetch her “the first Volume of the Parish Girl I was reading in the Afternoon.”

Nicholas Dames, The Chapter: A History, The New Yorker, October 29, 2014

  • Very interesting article. I don't think Dames is referring to phrases at the beginning of chapters though; the "explanations" he refers to are explanations of why chapters are necessary. His example passage does look like what I was referring to, but only coincidentally. Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 4:25

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