A grab-bag of miscellaneous links for you this week; I am knee-deep in nineteenth-century printing history at the moment, courtesy of The Book. Enjoy!
After writing about irony marks again recently (specifically, Michele Buchanan’s project to introduce an irony mark along with two other marks of punctuation), I was simultaneously happy and dismayed to come across yet another irony mark on Twitter recently. This one, however, is something of a blast from the past.
Now this is interesting. Readers of the Shady Characters book will recall that a very similar proposal was made in 1668 when John Wilkins, one of the founding members of the Royal Society,1 published a book entitled An essay towards a real character, and a philosophical language.2 This “real character” and its associated “philosophical language” were a kind of ontological experiment designed to represent literally anything under the sun by means of a single, unified written and spoken language.
We all know how well that went.
Almost as an afterthought, Wilkins suggested that ironic statements might be punctuated by an inverted exclamation mark, or ‘¡’. This, too, was a flop, though the idea has had a bit of a resurgence in recent years, as we’ve seen here. What makes Joseph Robertson’s mark interesting, then, as mooted in his 1792 book A clear and practical system of punctuation,3 is not just that it represents another use of ‘¡’ for irony but that it comes just 124 years later. It closes the gap quite between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries quite considerably — is this part of a longer, unbroken chain, perhaps? Any evidence of this would be very much appreciated.
The editors of the OED recently announced that the word “hashtag” is to be added to their hallowed pages.4 This is, arguably, less interesting than recent French moves to re-brand the hashtag as the mot-dièse, and still less so than the vexed question of where the ‘#’ got the name “octothorpe”, but we can be happy at least that this venerable mark continues to enjoy a new lease on life.
And finally, via the BBC, an exercise for the reader: how does one write about a poem consisting only of punctuation?
Thanks for reading!
- R Chambers and R Carruthers, “Dr John Wilkins”, in, 1847. ↢
- John Wilkins, An Essay towards a Real Character, and a Philosophical Language., 1668. ↢
- J Robertson, A Clear and Practical System of Punctuation : Abridged from Robertson’s Essay on Punctuation : For the Use of Schools., 1792. ↢
- “Hashtag”, OED Online, June–2014. ↢