Those innovators who have designed new typographic symbols make up an eclectic bunch. Interrobang creator Martin K. Speckter was an ad man by trade and a printer by temperament; Bas Jacobs, designer of the ironieteken, and Choz Cunningham, creator of the snark, are type designers; and Doug and Paul Sak of Sarcasm Inc., responsible for the much-maligned SarcMark©, are an accountant and engineer respectively.
The typewriter has had quite an impact over the years, influencing, among other things, working practices (and gender stereotypes in the workplace), typeface designs, and punctuation usage — witness the stunted hyphen-minus that stands in for the en and em dashes on your computer keyboard, beneficiary and victims, respectively, of the “Great Typewriter Squeeze”.12 Carrying all this baggage, as it does, I was intrigued to read Jimmy Stamp’s recent article “Fact of [sic] Fiction? The Legend of the QWERTY Keyboard” over at the Smithsonian Magazine’s Design Decoded blog. Theories abound as to the origins of the QWERTY keyboard layout, and though Stamp runs through the usual suspects — it was designed to separate common letter pairings to avoid jamming, say some; it allowed Remington salesmen to type the word “typewriter” using only the top row of keys, say others — he also adds a more obscure suggestion, put forth in 2011 by researchers at Kyoto University. As Koichi Yasuoka and Motoko Yasuoka explain, the QWERTY keyboard layout may have more to do with Morse code than anything else:
recently published a primer on the many and varied uses of the em (—) and en dashes (–), including a mention of my personal favourite, the “compound adjective hyphen”. This is the case where a compound term such as “Pulitzer Prize” is joined to another term not with a hyphen but instead an assertive en dash to yield, for instance, “Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist”. And if your interest is piqued by Mental Floss’s brief treatment of the usage of the dash, then hopefully the chapter on its history in the upcoming Shady Characters book will be worth waiting for!
The interrobang is in the ascendant this week. Richard Polt, a professor of philosophy at Xavier University, Ohio, is also a vintage typewriter buff who has helped me a number of times with regard to keyboards, typewriter models and such like. Back in 2011, Richard contributed this great image of a piano-like, 1889 Hammond to my article on The @-symbol, part 2 of 2; now, though, he has outdone himself handsomely with an amazing find. Witness the interrobang in print on the cover of Agent, Action, and Reason (1971) edited by Robert William Binkley et al.1