The manuscript is delivered, ladies and gentlemen. Barring any drama when the W.W. Norton staff return from Labor Day weekend, another milestone in the production of Shady Characters has been reached. To the many people I’ve hounded in the past month about images, quotes or other details, please accept my apologies and my thanks. Also, thanks must go to you, the Shady Characters readership, for your patience. Sorry for the radio silence!
Ben Yagoda, English teacher at the University of Delaware and instigator of the recent “logical punctuation” brouhaha, seems to be making a career as a punctuational agent provocateur. Turning his attention to the “Weimar-level exclamation inflation” particular to online communication, his latest missive for the New York Times makes passing reference to the interrobang and concludes that “QECs”, or “question-exclamation combos” (?! and !?), are now making their presence felt in print. Have any Shady Characters readers come across these devolved interrobangs in print?
Jen Doll of the Atlantic Wire has documented the “Imagined Lives of Punctuation Marks”* in a series of hilarious biographical sketches. Though the octothorpe and @-symbol do not warrant individual treatment, Doll does grant their street gang to a brief bio:
The Symbol for an Obscenity. !@#$!@$#!@ will tell you off just as soon as to look at you, but he’s fun to have around at parties and when truckers are giving you the finger on the highway, as well as on the off-chance you get your pinky caught in a door. Never met a bar brawl he didn’t like. Borderline sociopath, this @!*%$?-er owns a chihuahua.
The octothorpe does get a mention over at c|net, where Eric Mack laments the apparent fashion for prefixing a spoken exclamation with the word “hashtag” — for instance, “hashtag are you kidding me?”. I have never encountered this in person (I’m fairly sure my eyes will start out of their sockets if I ever have that privilege), but Mack evidently has done and implores his readers to use “pound” instead. Commenter md611, however, hits upon the correct solution to the problem, suggesting that:
[W]e could start saying “octothorpe”. That would be much easier to say and gesture.
I couldn’t agree more.