Thursday, November 24, 2016

Shady Characters by Keith Houston

  • THE BOOK
    • Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols and Other Typographical Marks by Keith Houston
    • Published September 24, 2013
    • One other book by author: The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time (my review here)

  • THE PREMISE
    • The author shares the history and usage of a selection of punctuation marks and other symbols.
    • The list: 
      • Pilcrow ¶
      • Interrobang ‽
      • Octothorpe #
      • Ampersand &
      • The "at" symbol @
      • Asterisk *
      • Dagger †
      • Hyphen ‐
      • Dash -
      • Manicule ☞
      • Quotation Marks " "
      • Symbols for irony and sarcasm ;)

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I LOVED this book! I have been boring any family member within reach about it.
    • The story of the pilcrow is this: the ancient Greeks, Romans and other early writers did not put spaces between words when they wrote.
      • This is called scriptio continua in Latin.
        • Itisdifficulttoimaginetryingtoreadsomethingtodaythathasnopunctuation
      • When ancient scribes wrote things down they didn't include a symbol for something not heard!
        • As an example, if you hear someone speaking a language you don't know, doesn't it seem as if there are no breaks between words? To one's ear it sounds all run together. We wouldn't know where to put breaks or spaces because we wouldn't hear them even though they are there.
        • Because people didn't read in those days so much as recite there was a need for marks to indicate pauses, stops and inflection for the orators. From these marks rose our modern punctuation.
        • The first marks were three dots. One was the familiar period. The other two were placed in the middle of the line and at the top of the line (sorry, can't make those two; I tried!).
          • These dots were called, respectively, the komma, periodos and kolon. Sound familiar?
      • To indicate new topics or theses they began using a "K", short for "kaput" which meant head. As language changed from Greek to Latin the K became a "C" for "capitulum" meaning "little head". 
        • In the days of fancy lettering of the monasteries a vertical line or two were added and the mark we know today arrived.
        • Capitulum was eventually the root of the word "chapter".
        • Thus was the pilcrow created! Ad then usurped by indenting!
        • From Greek through Middle English the name kind of went like this: paragraphos to paragraphe to pelagraphe to pelagreffe to pylcrafte to pilcrow.
        • And the pilcrow is now usually used by editors but I did notice an instance in the last Entertainment Weekly. An article about the new movie "Beauty and the beast" had a bunch of text formatted together and it used a pilcrow to indicate a paragraph break in the middle of the it! The pilcrow lives!
      • And this was just from the first chapter!
    • Hyphens and dashes aren't the same thing. There are hyphens, hyphen-minuses, minus signs for math, dashes, em dashes, en dashes, and figure dashes. 
      • All different in usage but basically the same to our ignorant eyes! Much of this is because the modern typewriter --- and then the keyboard --- generally only include one version of a dash/hyphen.
    • Ampersands are stylized representation of "et" which means "and" (still does in modern French).
      • The name is a corruption of "and per se and" (per se means "by itself") because at one time people recited the alphabet ending with "...x, y, z and per se and".
    • Some symbols don't make or or catch on. Symbols to indicate sarcasm and the interrobang are two of those. 
      • The interrobang is an invention of the 1960s. It is a combination question mark/exclamation point. 
        • Are you kidding me‽
        • Are you kidding me?!
        • We seem to do fine with using them separately.
    • Some symbols took on new life with the rise of the Internet: # and @.
    • The author has a blog and I started following it last week just as he posted an entry about how he was taking a couple of months off because he and his wife just had their first child!
    • Recommended for punctuation nuts like me and any readers interested in a history of several punctuation and symbols.
    • Happy Thanksgiving!

1 comment:

  1. "Recommended for punctuation nuts." Or just nuts.

    ReplyDelete