From Shady Characters

Errata for Shady Characters

The following errata apply to the first hardcover, paperback and electronic editions of Shady Characters, published in 2013 by W. W. Norton (USA)1 and Particular Books (UK)2. Factual errors are addressed here, grammatical errors and spelling mistakes are not.

My thanks go to Mark Forsyth, Eric Johnson, Zoran Minderovic, Tim Nau, Jeff Norman, Trevor Peach, Bill Pollack, Patrick Reagh, Jeff Shay, and Liz B. Veronis for pointing out these errors.

P34, L15–19
The Linotype machine supported magazines of 180 different characters (that is, two characters per matrix, with ninety channels available). The Monotype system supported 255 characters, not 120. Both machines went on to support more characters in later iterations.
P47, L23–25
The text refers to a “pound of sterling”; this should in fact be “a pound weight of sterling coins”.
P59, L19
Marcus Tullius Cicero is most commonly known as “Cicero”, but, for the avoidance of doubt, he is also sometimes called “Tully”, notably in Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.3
P114, L21
Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs, not 71, in his record-breaking season.
P132, second note
Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible was set in two columns, not one, and so would have required twice as many extra hyphens and spaces as is described here.
P134, L5
The machine whose design was sponsored by Mark Twain was called the “Paige Compositor”, not the “Paige typesetter”.
P136, last line
Type metal does not emit fumes at the temperatures at which it is melted for use in Linotype and Monotype machines. However, type metal may contain contaminants that will vapourise, and which may themselves be harmful.
P171, last line
Erasmus informed the Reformation, but did not influence it per se.
P214, last paragraph
Erasmus mused about the lack of an irony mark in his essay In Praise of Folly in 1509; John Wilkins proposed his irony mark in 1668. Almost 160 years elapsed between the two, rather than 60.
P217, L13
Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Essai sur l’origines des langues was published in 1781, not 1852.4
P217, L22
Ostensoir translates to “monstrance”, a kind of reliquary, rather than “monstrosity”.
P250, L9
For “chapter 8”, read “chapter 9”.

If you come across an error in any edition of Shady Characters, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! I’d appreciate it very much, and I’d be very happy to acknowledge you in future editions.

Houston, Keith. Shady Characters : Ampersands, Interrobangs and Other Typographical Curiosities. London: Particular Books, 2013.


Houston, Keith. Shady Characters : the Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, & Other Typographical Marks. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, inc, 2013.


Gibbon, Edward, and John Bagnall Bury. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. London: Methuen, 1896.


Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. “Essai Sur l’origine Des Langues”. In Collection complète Des Oeuvres De J. J. Rousseau, Citoyen De Geneve, 8:357-434. Geneva: [s.n.], 1782.


8 comments on “Errata for Shady Characters

  1. Comment posted by Bill M on

    Thanks for the list. I printed it and tucked it into my copy.

  2. Comment posted by Jeff Norman on

    Erratum to the errata: the Barry Bonds info is better phrased as “Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs, not 71, in his record-breaking season.” “Scoring runs” and “hitting home runs” aren’t the same thing (I write with humility, knowing that I understand cricket far, far less than you probably understand baseball!).

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi Jeff — ah, of course! Thanks for pointing that out. I’m afraid my knowledge of cricket is probably not much better than that of baseball, but thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt!

  3. Comment posted by Solo Owl on

    Is this an erratum to the errata, or did I miss something? Regarding P47, L23–25: The text refers to a “pound of sterling”; this should in fact be “a pound weight of sterling coins”. Should this refer to page 45 instead? There I see “pounds sterling”, but not “pound of sterling”, with an explanation in the next sentence that agrees with the correction.

    And one you missed: P250, L9: I suspect you mean “Chapter 9” instead of “chapter 8”. (I had my own fun with this in another comment on this blog.)

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Good catch! I hadn’t noticed the chapter 8/9 confusion in the Acknowledgements. Thanks for that.

  4. Comment posted by DHeadshot on

    Found an error: on page 206, line 16, you describe outward-pointing guillemets, yet demonstrate the point with inward-pointing ones!

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Thanks for that! I’ll add that to the list.

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