A post from Shady Characters

Miscellany № 28: Save the Tironian et!

Readers will, of course, be familiar with the interrobang (‽), that most Madison Avenue of punctuation marks. Its name, like its shape, is equal parts question and exclamation: the Latin interrogatio, for a rhetorical question,1 combines with ‘bang’, a slang term for the exclamation mark. Until I started researching the history of the interrobang I had never come across this use of the word ‘bang’, but a quick check of the Typographic Desk Reference soon dispelled my ignorance: the TDR also lists ‘exclamation point’, ‘screamer’ and the rather risqué ‘dog’s cock’ as alternatives.2

These, it turns out, are mere drops in the ocean of exclamation point names, and a new post at Stan Carey’s Sentence First lifts the lid on the veritable cornucopia of alternative terms for this humble mark. “Bang, pling, boing, shriek, gasper, screamer, Christer! And other exclamation mark aliases” pulls in these terms and more, with some informed commentary to follow. Full disclosure: Stan kindly provided a great photograph of the Tironian et (⁊) for a prior post here, but that’s no reason not to check his his excellent blog. What’s your favoured name for the exclamation mark?

Speaking of the Tironian et, European type foundry Underware recently posted an image consisting entirely of ampersands on Flickr. I was struck by its similarity to the serried ranks of ampersands presented in Formenwandlungen der &-Zeichen,3 Jan Tschichold’s obsessive 1953 pamphlet that chronicles the character’s visual development. Tschichold also catalogued the many forms of the ampersand’s ill-fated competitor, and it seems a shame that this once-great mark is so little heard of today. Accordingly, I have begun the fightback: it is time to lobby for the reintroduction of the Tironian et. Surely Underware, as noted purveyors of quality irony marks,4 can be persuaded to help rehabilitate another endangered symbol?

In other news, today I received the first page proofs of the Shady Characters book, set in Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ luxurious Hoefler Text. It’s one of the default fonts for this blog, and it’s preinstalled on many Apple Macs: if you’re reading on such a machine then you’re likely already looking at it. If not, I encourage you to take a look at some of H&FJ’s specimens! It’s a feast for the eyes.

Burton, Gideon O. “Interrogatio”. Brigham Young University, March 2011.


Rosendorf, Theodore. “Exclamation Mark”. In The Typographic Desk Reference, 46+. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Books, 2009.


Tschichold, Jan. Formenwandlungen Der &-Zeichen. D. Stempel AG, 1953.




8 comments on “Miscellany № 28: Save the Tironian et!

  1. Comment posted by porges on

    Regarding ‘!’, the Jargon File (which seems to have been cited in a few comments on here) contains a longer reference for bang, along with shriek and excl (pron. eks’kl).

    The full list it gives is:

    Common: bang ; pling; excl; not; shriek; ball-bat; . Rare: factorial; exclam; smash; cuss; boing; yell; wow; hey; wham; eureka; [spark-spot]; soldier, control.

    The entry on ASCII has just about every name you could think of.

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi porges — thanks for bringing that up! The Jargon File is quite the treasure trove for language and computing enthusiasts.

  2. Comment posted by Erik Vorhes on

    The Tironian et is also common in Old English texts (even in some relatively modern editions). And at the risk of gratuitous self-promotion, here’s another example for you: http://drbl.in/dOFt :)

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi Erik — I hadn’t realised that the Tironian et was common in Old English. My research suggested that it survived mostly in blackletter script, but I didn’t look at specific languages. Interesting!

      Thanks for the comment, and the example! Can I ask which typeface you used?

    2. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Ah, I see. Thanks! I looked at Junicode when I started writing the Shady Character manuscript, though I ended up using Arial Unicode MS and DejaVu as required.

  3. Comment posted by Brianary on

    Unix and Linux script files tend to begin with #! followed by the command to run the script with, which is typically referred to as the shebang line.

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