Palaeography is the study of old writing. And as often as I’ve had to hunt through old manuscripts for points (·), pilcrows (¶), virgules (/) and the like, I am not a palaeographer in anything more than the loosest sense. Given this, was a pleasant surprise to find myself chairing a session at a palaeography conference called DigiPal V, held at King’s College London just a couple of weeks ago. I was there at the invitation of Stewart Brookes, King’s College’s resident digital palaeography specialist, who kindly moved me sideways from presenter to chair when I pleaded an inability to come up with a decent paper in time.
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.
Shady characters seem to be popping up in the mainstream media more and more regularly these days. Having discussed its signature use of the diaeresis only a few weeks ago, this month the New Yorker turns its attention to the ‘þ’, or ‘thorn’, a medieval consonant used to represent a ‘th’ sound. In a post on the magazine’s book blog, Mary Norris explains how she shepherded a stray thorn through the composition and proofreading processes — and apparently met with very little resistance in doing so. This heartens me as to the prospects for the Shady Characters book; the ‘þ’ is positively prosaic compared to some of the Unicode mining I’ve been engaged in of late.