A post from Shady Characters

Miscellany № 31: Hiatus, and a hiatus

"Un maximum de sens dans un minimum d'espace: l'histoire de la ponctuation", Hiatus, la revue, issue 1.
“Un maximum de sens dans un minimum d’espace: l’histoire de la ponctuation”, Hiatus, la revue, issue 1.

I was excited this week to receive a package postmarked from France: inside were two printed copies of Hiatus, la revue, the magazine for which I wrote a short article on the history of punctuation. I must say thank you to Francis Ramel at Les Éditions Hiatus for sending these over; though it was great to have the opportunity to write for Hiatus in the first place, seeing the article in print is even better.

The mock-up above shows the article in its French form, along with a “poem in a single word” on the facing page, another of the issue’s riffs on the theme of “minimum”. I don’t think I’m giving away too much when I say that the entire poem can be translated as:


The poem is set in Bouture, a work-in-progress typeface by Francis. If you’d like to read more of this issue of Hiatus, it’s available at the Hiatus store for an eminently reasonable €5. Also, I’ll be holding a competition in the near future for one lucky reader to win one of my copies — stay tuned for more details!

Chris Booth, Jason Black, Penny Speckter and others wrote in to mention the interrobang’s guest appearance within the hallowed pages of Randall Monroe’s consistently excellent webcomic xkcd. I’ll let Randall’s strip do the talking:

XKCD #1209: "Encoding". (Image courtesy of Randall Monroe.)
XKCD #1209: “Encoding”. (Image courtesy of Randall Monroe.)

Marc Smith, professor of palaeography at the École Nationale des Chartes, Paris, wrote in with some questions about the earliest appearance of the @-symbol on the typewriter keyboard. I’m afraid to say that I was not able to offer a great deal of help; Marc was already far better informed than I was when it came to the specifics of the dates and typewriter models involved. He’s so well informed, in fact, that in January this year he gave a 70-minute lecture on “The true story of the at sign”, which is available on YouTube. Though the lecture is in French, there are plenty of intriguing slides in there illuminating the @-symbol’s evolution and usage for non-Francophones.*

That’s all for this week, and for a few weeks to come: my wife and I will be away for our honeymoon for the next fortnight. More on that competition when we get back!

Sadly, though I can now validly claim to have contributed to a French magazine, my French language skills are woefully inadequate to keeping up with Professor Smith’s presentation! 

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