Miscellany № 84: zut alors!

Happy new year! Here’s a post that I certainly did not expect to crest 1,400 words.

There have been a rash of recent news stories from Brittany, the westernmost region of mainland France, concerning parents wishing to give their children traditional Breton names. In September 2017, for example, Agence France-Presse published an account of a baby boy named “Fañch”1 whose parents were told that per government rules their son could not have a tilde in his name. As the French government’s website explains,

Read more →

The 2015 Shady Characters gift guide

It’s December, and that means it’s time for the second annual Shady Characters gift guide! In no particular order, here are a few gifts to consider for the punctation-phile or language buff in your life.

Last year I focused on mainly non-literary gifts; this year, happily, has seen the publication of a number of new books on punctuation. Here’s the first: David Crystal’s Making a Point: The Pernickety Story of English Punctuation is a combined history and usage guide that explores punctuation in English from medieval monasteries to the internet. I reviewed it for the Wall Street Journal and had a great time in doing so — the first part in particular, in which Crystal takes the reader on a breakneck journey through the history of English punctuation, is a joy to read. More serious than Shady Characters and less judgmental than Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, it’d make a great gift for writers, readers, and teachers.

Recently, I came across an article at CBC.ca about an “Ampersand Distilling Company” on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Punctuation and booze, and in the Pacific Northwest, no less? I was intrigued.

Read more →

Maximal meaning in minimal space: the history of punctuation

Read more →

Miscellany № 27

The apostrophe, for some reason, is one of those marks that raises hackles no matter how it is approached. I write in the Shady Characters book about a news story that ran back in 2002, when the city council of Nottingham, England, instituted an “apostrophe swear box”. Infuriated by misuse of the apostrophe by council workers, Graham Chapman, the council’s leader,

Read more →