A post from Shady Characters

Miscellany № 63: punctuating the summer

I’ll be on holiday this coming week, enjoying the final stage of the Tour de France in Paris with my wife Leigh (as she put it when she suggested the trip: “lycra is optional, the Louvre is not”), but here are a few punctuational links to tide you over until I’m back.

  • Are you a Mancunian? The owners of an as-yet hypothetical pub called The Pilcrow are documenting their quest to build a new pub in Manchester up using local expertise and elbow grease. Follow them at their web site or on Twitter @thepilcrowpub.
  • Gunther Schmidt of lexikaliker.de sent me a link to an excellent article about Japanese punctuation. Posted at Tofugu, an educational website about Japanese language, it talks about (conceptually) familiar marks like the comma () and full stop () before moving on to more esoteric marks such as the wave dash () and the unexpectedly rehabilitated interpunct (・). Koichi, the author of the piece, explains that the unusual spacing is down to the “monospaced” nature of Japanese characters, where each one occupies a roughly square area of approximately equal size, so that marks of punctuation are promoted to have the same width as letters in order to go with the typographic flow. The article is a great introduction to the subject, and I urge you to read it!
  • In the words of Mark Berman of The Washington Post: “Minnesota’s great umlaut war is over (also, Minnesota was having an umlaut war)”. Berman reports on a (quite reasonable) backlash from the inhabitants of the town of Lindström who objected to the loss of their umlaut in a recent road sign upgrade. Squint, and it’s almost a story about a diaeresis.
  • Readers with access to an academic library should take a look at Claire Bourne’s article “Dramatic Pilcrows”, published in the December 2014 issue of The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America. It’s a challenging but rewarding read.

Thanks for reading! If you have a punctuation-related link of your own, why not share it here? Leave a comment on this post or drop me a line at the Contact page.

17 comments on “Miscellany № 63: punctuating the summer

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Very nice. Thanks for the link!

      A Shady Characters reader named Beth suggested that I check out a poem called “Composed in the Composing Room” — it’s very similar.

  1. Comment posted by Graham Moss on

    Nice story on The Pilcrow! I’m in the midst of printing the autobiography of an early 19th century Manchester bookseller whose manuscript has no punctuation to speak of, but is chronological. Of course pilcrows are the only sensible way to show the way through it without crushing his voice with modern punctuation. Found a nice one too, in metal type, 12pt Scotch. I’ll tweet some photos as printing progresses @inclinepress over the next few months.

  2. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

    That sounds fascinating! I’ll keep an eye on @inclinepress to see how things progress.

  3. Comment posted by Ned Armour on

    My wife bought me THE Book for a Birthday present. I love it.

    I am interested in the”Interrobang” but don’t know how to create it with my computer keyboard.

    1. Comment posted by Zeissmann on

      In Unicode interrobang can be found under code U+203D. Now you just have to figure out how to type Unicode in your system. Under GNU/Linux you do Ctrl+Shift+u and then type the code followed by Enter, like this: “‽”. Under other systems I have no idea, but it should be easily googlable. Also, you need to make sure your font has the glyph you need, otherwise you’ll just get a blank box.

    2. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      I’d add that in Word, you can enter Unicode characters by entering the numeric code (such as 203d for the interrobang) and then hitting Alt+x.

    3. Comment posted by John Cowan on

      If you type directly in the box, the formula is ‽, which should produce ‽. Make sure you get all of the &amp, the #, the x, and the final semicolon, or it won’t work.

    4. Comment posted by John Cowan on

      Arrgh, it failed. That’s & followed by # followed by x followed by the 4- or 5-digit Unicode number, followed by semicolon.

    5. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi John – that’s quite right. For the interrobang, type ‽ to get ‘‽’

    6. Comment posted by Gunther on

      It looks like the key combination depends on the language – in my German Word it’s Alt+c.

  4. Comment posted by Jon of Connecticut on

    This isn’t about punctuation, but I am reading Founding Grammars by Rosemarie Ostler. See the link in my name. THe title is awful, but it is an interesting book. It reminds me of yours, Keith, but its focus is more limited. It looks at American history thorough the lens of American grammar and word usage. I’m up to the latter part of the 19th Century. So far, the cast of characters include Noah Webster, Davy Crockett, and Horace Greely as well as a a cast of folks who I am unfamiliar with as well as presidents Jackson and Lincoln.
    My language walkabout has taken me to England and Australia as well as this trip of my homeland. I need a Canadian book or a South African one. Any suggestions?

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      I don’t have any suggestions for books on Canadian or South African language or grammar, I’m afraid. Perhaps another reader can help?

  5. Comment posted by Jon of Connecticut on

    A blog

    A book

    Arrant Pedantry looks pretty interesting. I’m not a grammar stickler, but I do think that the rule about not ending sentences with a preposition may be generally useful. You want a stronger word at the end of a sentence, where the follow period emphasizes it.
    Shady Characters was about punctuation, but it wasn’t as focused as Signs of Ommission looks.

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi Jon — Arrant Pedantry has been on my to-follow list for some time. Thanks for the reminder!

    2. Comment posted by Jon of Connecticut on

      You once linked an entry from The New Yorker website by their copy editor Mary Norris. She has a book out now–Confessions of a Comma Queen–that includes this piece as well as other musings on punctuation, grammar, and writing. When I say writing, I really man it. She has a whole chapter on pencils. She doesn’t like semicolons; no one can be perfect. Regarding the title character, the comma, she writes more about that mark than anything else. She discusses its invention in Italy soon after the invention of the printing press; discusses how The Lord’s Prayer can have its meaning changed by moving the comma around; and says that it was used in the Nineteenth Century by writes such as Dickens and Melville more as a device to tell readers when to pause than as a device to separate clauses (which we use it for more often today.)

      I also learned that Noah Webster lived in a house formerly owned by Benedict Arnold. I am from Connecticut, after all, so I love little nutmegs like that.

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