By Virginia Parker Staat
“In the family of punctuation, where the full stop is daddy and the comma is mummy,
and the semicolon quietly practises the piano with crossed hands,
the exclamation mark is the big attention-deficit brother who gets overexcited and breaks things and laughs too loudly.”
~ Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
On September 24, our nation will celebrate its 16thNational Punctuation Day. Jeff Rubin founded the event in 2004 as “a celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever-mysterious ellipses.”
Punctuation has an interesting history. It began to appear around the 3rdcentury BC when Aristophanes of Byzantium, the head librarian at the Library of Alexandria, introduced dots to indicate where a passage ended. Fast forward to the 15thcentury when the invention of the printing press made punctuation essential. Printer Aldus Pius Manutius is credited with being the first to use the comma and semicolon.
While its history is interesting, in honor of National Punctuation Day I thought we should broaden our punctuation horizons beyond the standard fourteen marks. Over the centuries many punctuation marks have come into being, then faded into antiquity. These were essentially the first emojis. As late as 1966, French writer Herve Bazin proposed six new punctuation marks, including the irony point, doubt point, certitude point, acclamation point, authority point, and love point. Sadly none of Bazin’s punctuation marks are available in our font collections today.
Thankfully, however, a few rarely used punctuation marks have survived and are just a click away. They include the following:
· The percontation point, also called the irony question mark, is represented by a backwards question mark:؟ The percontation point was proposed by English printer Henry Denham in 1580 and was popular until the early 1600s.
· The interrobangindicates shock and question simultaneously. It is most often represented as an exclamation mark over a question mark: ‽ Martin Speckter invented the interrobang in 1962 to combat the ugliness of using multiple punctuation marks at the end of a sentence.
· The daggerand dual daggersrepresent reference marks and indicate a footnote or someone’s death or the extinction of something: † ‡. Dagger marks appear to have been first used by ancient Greek scholars.
· The manacleis basically one of the earliest forms of finger pointing and is meant to draw attention to passages of particular importance: ☞. Historian William Sherman found the first example of a manacle in the Domesday Bookfrom 1086.
· Perhaps my favorite rare punctuation mark is the lovely fleuron, often called the hedera (Latin for ivy). You can see why: ❦. It is an elegant typographic ornament indicating a new paragraph or a break between texts. It has been found in classical Latin and Greek texts.
Just think of the possibilities these rare punctuation marks could add to our more dramatic writing. An example might be: “You call this love؟ I find you with another man, and I’m supposed to ignore it ‽ Our love is over ‡as of ☞TODAY.❦
The translation for these sentences would be: You call this love (irony)؟ I find you with another man, and I’m supposed to ignore it (shock and question simultaneously)‽ It’s over ‡(death or extinction of something) as of ☞TODAY (information with particular importance). ❦(Text break.)
These rare punctuation marks remind me of Victor Borge’s famous phonetic punctuation skit. Still, it’s fun to consider what reading would be like with so many more available types of punctuation.
If you would like to copy and paste some of these fine examples into your own work, go to https://bizuns.com/symbols-bullets-copy-paste. It will certainly add pizzazz… and, perhaps, a bit of confusion for your readers.
I do hope you enjoy your National Punctuation Day celebration. If you would like to know more about the event, I invite you to visit http://www.nationalpunctuationday.com.