A post from Shady Characters

Miscellany № 44: clampersands and dieses

The adjustable clampersand, courtesy of Hand-Eye Supply.
The Adjustable Clampersand, courtesy of Hand-Eye Supply.

First off, I give you The Adjustable Clampersand. Need I say more?

Actually, I do. As much as you or I might want to lay our hands on one of these glorious devices, we’ll just have to wait. As Hand-Eye Supply explains on the clampersand’s product page,

Sad news! The machine shop at the Foundry where our next run of Clampersands was being finished burned down and our latest run was destroyed. Here’s the news story via NBC Chicago. Fortunately no one was seriously injured, and a new run of Clampersands is expected soon.

Hand-Eye say that a new foundry will be, well, found as soon as possible, and clampersand shipments will resume in mid-April. (Hat tip to I Love Typography for the link!)

The origins of the diesis, or ‘‡’, have remained obscure to me since I first started researching its singular sibling, the dagger (†).1 The word “diesis” was once used in music to represent a sharp (and indeed in French, the related dièse still is), while its etymology, coming from the Greek δίεσις or “sending through”, does have a hint of piercing or cutting to it.2 Separately, the visual appearance of the diesis is clearly a straightforward “doubling” of the dagger.

The questions that remain, then, are these: when did the typographic diesis appear, and why? Reader Ivan Bececco sent me a link to his own investigation on the matter (in Italian, here), though unless Google Translate has entirely misled me as to the contents of his article, Ivan too concludes that we just don’t know where the diesis came from. Having looked back through my own notes, none of the typographic references I’ve looked at discuss the history of this familiar but mysterious mark.3456

So: can any Shady Characters readers shed any light on this? Did the diesis originate with printing, or before it? How did the dagger become the double dagger, and how did it get its name?

In other news, the New York Times tackles the hyphen; Mike Parker, populariser of Neue Haas Grotesk (Helvetica to you and me) has died, and the BBC and The Guardian take a look back at the man and his favoured typeface; Stan Carey takes on “emphatic” quotation marks at the Macmillan Dictionary Blog; and the intricacies of interpreting seventeenth-century semicolons is explored by Christopher M. Graney.

Thanks for reading!

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