Miscellany № 84: zut alors!

Happy new year! Here’s a post that I certainly did not expect to crest 1,400 words.


There have been a rash of recent news stories from Brittany, the westernmost region of mainland France, concerning parents wishing to give their children traditional Breton names. In September 2017, for example, Agence France-Presse published an account of a baby boy named “Fañch”1 whose parents were told that per government rules their son could not have a tilde in his name. As the French government’s website explains,

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Miscellany № 81: Toward a Taxonomy of the Interrobang

Remember the interrobang‽ Of course you do! That’s the kind of rhetorical question for which the interrobang is perfectly suited. I’ve been thinking about Martin K. Speckter’s punctuation mark of late for a couple of reasons: first, a Google alert turned up an obituary of a Minnesotan poet named J. Otis Powell‽. I hadn’t known of Powell‽ previously — I’d have loved to have been able to ask him about his surname! — but Minnpost explains his unusual name as follows:

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Paper Adaptations


Quite honestly, sometimes I’m not sure how I feel about books. Paper books, I mean, like the ones currently clogging my bedside table and piled beside my keyboard. I catch myself sighing whenever I have to reach for the enumerated bulk of the Chicago Manual of Style, or as I hunt through my bookshelves for some half-remembered bit of information. We’ve spent 50 years freeing information from the prison of the paper book, making it ubiquitous, searchable and
self-replicating, and so it is easy to wonder: what are physical books good for?

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The Metallic Ink of Herculaneum


In January 2015, scientists at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France, announced that they had deciphered handwritten text from a series of papyrus scrolls excavated at the Roman town of Herculaneum by passing X-rays through the scrolls’ carbonized remains. Then, in March this year, another secret was revealed. Those same scrolls were discovered to have been written with distinctive metallic ink, once thought to have been invented many hundreds of years later, and which boasted – or rather, whispered of – roots in ancient spycraft.

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Miscellany № 77: amperbrand

The ampersand is one of those shady characters that has taken on a life of its own, thriving happily beyond its home in writing and typography. In particular, it exerts an irresistible power over designers, advertisers and others in the business of creating and promoting commercial brands. Fortnum & Mason, for example, recently published a blog post1 explaining “the little-known story of the important symbol sat between our two famous names”. Crate & Barrel, the American homeware store, once built an advertising campaign around their ampersand;2 AT&T did the same earlier this year.3 As John Brownlee of Fast Co. Design puts it in “Why Designers Love The Ampersand”,

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