SHADY CHARACTERS.

Keith Houston’s new Shady Characters (“The secret life of punctuation”) is the most delightful blog I’ve seen in a while; not only is it well written, the typography is gorgeous (even if Houston is, as he says in the About section, “a complete amateur in the worlds of punctuation and typography”). In his introduction he explains that his interest in these topics was sparked by his discovery of the pilcrow in Eric Gill’s An Essay on Typography (1931):

In the end, my notes on the pilcrow took in references to the birth of punctuation, the ancient Greeks, Charles the Great, medieval writing and England’s greatest 20th century typographer. I started to research other marks of punctuation — not only those, like the pilcrow, which hovered on the margins, but also everyday characters such as the ampersand (‘&’) and the hash mark (‘#’) — and what emerged was an ever more diverse set of episodes, actors and artefacts: the creation of the internet; ancient Roman graffiti; Venetian trading shorthand; Cold War double agents, and Madison Avenue at the peak of its powers. Their stories wove a fascinating trail across the parallel histories of language and typography.
These shady characters, these typographic raconteurs hiding in plain sight, were too good to miss. Shady Characters is here to bring them into the light of day.

If you’re wondering what a pilcrow is, you’re in luck, because that’s his first topic: The Pilcrow, part 1; The Pilcrow, part 2. Enjoy!

Comments

  1. Thanks for the mention! I’m glad you’re enjoying the site.

  2. fascinating!¶
    I’ve just looked in the Character Palette – there are only about 150 punctuation marks (characters) there.¶
    Is that enough to spin a blog? or is it not just about punctuation?

  3. Put it this way, I’ve only got three goats.

  4. Well, let’s see … 150 marks, 3 posts a mark, one post a month … he’ll be going for a while!

  5. Fascinating. WordPress.com recently updated my blog theme/template from PressRow to Pilcrow, both of which offer more pleasing typography than other options I had considered. Now I know what the new theme name refers to.

  6. In a similar vein: this.

  7. I’m more facinated not by the marks themselves, but by the justifications why a well-written text shouldn’t need any. The “Pause and Effect” cites Cicero who supposedly insisted that the inherent rhytm of a good text and the musicality of the skilled reader should be sufficient to place the proper pauses at the right places. That the rhythm necessitates it (not the shortness of breath of a speaker, nor the punctuation signs placed by a copyist).
    As a dancer I find this belief truly fascinating. Hardly anyone marks up a tune with commas and periods to tell a dancer when to pause within, and between, the musical phrases… Why do we insist that it should be different for printed phrases?
    Anyway, I have a favor to ask. Could anyone point me to where Cicero wrote that? The book references “Cicero Orator lxviii, 228″. I found this 1885 book online but I don’t think it’s the right one.

  8. Nevermind got it:
    Итак, этот прием — предпочтем ли мы называть его построением, или отделкой, или ритмом, — необходимо применять всякому, кто хочет говорить пышно, и не только для того, чтобы речь не лилась безостановочным потоком, как говорят Аристотель и Феофраст (ведь остановку в ней должно определять не дыхание оратора или препинание писца, а требование ритма), но еще и потому, что стройная речь бывает гораздо сильнее беспорядочной. И как мы видим, что кулачные бойцы, а также гладиаторы и при осторожной обороне и при стремительном нападении в каждом своем движении обнаруживают известную выучку, так что все, что в их приемах полезно для боя, то и приятно для зрения, — так и оратор не нанесет тяжкого удара, если не будет удобного случая для нападения, и не сможет удачно уклоняться от натиска, если не найдет достойного отступления

  9. aquilluqaaq says:

    All the same:
    Cicero, Orator, 228.1-229.11
    hanc igitur, sive compositionem sive perfectionem sive numerum vocari placet, [et] adhibere necesse est, si ornate velis dicere, non solum, quod ait Aristoteles et Theophrastus, ne infinite feratur ut flumen oratio, quae non aut spiritu pronuntiantis aut interductu librarii sed numero coacta debet insistere, verum etiam quod multo maiorem habent apta vim quam soluta. ut enim athletas nec multo secus gladiatores videmus nihil nec vitando facere caute nec petendo vehementer, in quo non motus hic habeat palaestram quandam, ut quicquid in his rebus fiat utiliter ad pugnam idem ad aspectum etiam sit venustum, sic orator nec plagam gravem facit, nisi petitio fuit apta, nec satis tecte declinat impetum, nisi etiam in cedendo quid deceat intellegit. itaque qualis eorum motus quos ἀπαλαίστρους Graeci vocant, talis horum mihi videtur oratio qui non clau- dunt numeris sententias, tantumque abest ut – quod ii qui hoc aut magistrorum inopia aut ingenii tardi- tate aut laboris fuga non sunt assecuti solent dicere – enervetur oratio compositione verborum, ut aliter in ea nec impetus ullus nec vis esse possit. sed magnam exercitationem res flagitat, ne quid eorum qui genus hoc secuti non tenuerunt simile faciamus: ne aut verba traiciamus aperte, quo melius aut cadat aut volvatur oratio.

  10. Currently Unicode encodes 598 punctuation marks. There are more than 50 sets of paired punctuation marks, basically brackets and quotation marks of various sorts; more than 20 types of hyphens and dashes; and 10 kinds of underscores. In addition to generic punctuation, there are punctuation marks specific to more than 50 of Unicode’s 95 currently encoded scripts.
    Here they are in full, though most people won’t have the fonts to see them all. Note that there are double-width and double-width but small clones of the ASCII punctuation marks for use with Chinese and Japanese.
    ! " # % & ' ( ) * , - . / : ; ? @ [ \ ] _ { } ¡ « · » ¿ ; · ՚ ՛ ՜ ՝ ՞ ՟ ։ ֊ ־ ׀ ׃ ׆ ׳ ״ ؉ ؊ ، ؍ ؛ ؞ ؟ ٪ ٫ ٬ ٭ ۔ ܀ ܁ ܂ ܃ ܄ ܅ ܆ ܇ ܈ ܉ ܊ ܋ ܌ ܍ ߷ ߸ ߹ ࠰ ࠱ ࠲ ࠳ ࠴ ࠵ ࠶ ࠷ ࠸ ࠹ ࠺ ࠻ ࠼ ࠽ ࠾ ࡞ । ॥ ॰ ෴ ๏ ๚ ๛ ༄ ༅ ༆ ༇ ༈ ༉ ༊ ་ ༌ ། ༎ ༏ ༐ ༑ ༒ ༺ ༻ ༼ ༽ ྅ ࿐ ࿑ ࿒ ࿓ ࿔ ࿙ ࿚ ၊ ။ ၌ ၍ ၎ ၏ ჻ ፡ ። ፣ ፤ ፥ ፦ ፧ ፨ ᐀ ᙭ ᙮ ᚛ ᚜ ᛫ ᛬ ᛭ ᜵ ᜶ ។ ៕ ៖ ៘ ៙ ៚ ᠀ ᠁ ᠂ ᠃ ᠄ ᠅ ᠆ ᠇ ᠈ ᠉ ᠊ ᥄ ᥅ ᨞ ᨟ ᪠ ᪡ ᪢ ᪣ ᪤ ᪥ ᪦ ᪨ ᪩ ᪪ ᪫ ᪬ ᪭ ᭚ ᭛ ᭜ ᭝ ᭞ ᭟ ᭠ ᯼ ᯽ ᯾ ᯿ ᰻ ᰼ ᰽ ᰾ ᰿ ᱾ ᱿ ᳓ ‐ ‑ ‒ – — ― ‖ ‗ ‘ ’ ‚ ‛ “ ” „ ‟ † ‡ • ‣ ․ ‥ … ‧ ‰ ‱ ′ ″ ‴ ‵ ‶ ‷ ‸ ‹ › ※ ‼ ‽ ‾ ‿ ⁀ ⁁ ⁂ ⁃ ⁅ ⁆ ⁇ ⁈ ⁉ ⁊ ⁋ ⁌ ⁍ ⁎ ⁏ ⁐ ⁑ ⁓ ⁔ ⁕ ⁖ ⁗ ⁘ ⁙ ⁚ ⁛ ⁜ ⁝ ⁞ ⁽ ⁾ ₍ ₎ 〈 〉 ❨ ❩ ❪ ❫ ❬ ❭ ❮ ❯ ❰ ❱ ❲ ❳ ❴ ❵ ⟅ ⟆ ⟦ ⟧ ⟨ ⟩ ⟪ ⟫ ⟬ ⟭ ⟮ ⟯ ⦃ ⦄ ⦅ ⦆ ⦇ ⦈ ⦉ ⦊ ⦋ ⦌ ⦍ ⦎ ⦏ ⦐ ⦑ ⦒ ⦓ ⦔ ⦕ ⦖ ⦗ ⦘ ⧘ ⧙ ⧚ ⧛ ⧼ ⧽ ⳹ ⳺ ⳻ ⳼ ⳾ ⳿ ⵰ ⸀ ⸁ ⸂ ⸃ ⸄ ⸅ ⸆ ⸇ ⸈ ⸉ ⸊ ⸋ ⸌ ⸍ ⸎ ⸏ ⸐ ⸑ ⸒ ⸓ ⸔ ⸕ ⸖ ⸗ ⸘ ⸙ ⸚ ⸛ ⸜ ⸝ ⸞ ⸟ ⸠ ⸡ ⸢ ⸣ ⸤ ⸥ ⸦ ⸧ ⸨ ⸩ ⸪ ⸫ ⸬ ⸭ ⸮ ⸰ ⸱ 、 。 〃 〈 〉 《 》 「 」 『 』 【 】 〔 〕 〖 〗 〘 〙 〚 〛 〜 〝 〞 〟 〰 〽 ゠ ・ ꓾ ꓿ ꘍ ꘎ ꘏ ꙳ ꙾ ꛲ ꛳ ꛴ ꛵ ꛶ ꛷ ꡴ ꡵ ꡶ ꡷ ꣎ ꣏ ꣸ ꣹ ꣺ ꤮ ꤯ ꥟ ꧁ ꧂ ꧃ ꧄ ꧅ ꧆ ꧇ ꧈ ꧉ ꧊ ꧋ ꧌ ꧍ ꧞ ꧟ ꩜ ꩝ ꩞ ꩟ ꫞ ꫟ ꯫ ﴾ ﴿ ︐ ︑ ︒ ︓ ︔ ︕ ︖ ︗ ︘ ︙ ︰ ︱ ︲ ︳ ︴ ︵ ︶ ︷ ︸ ︹ ︺ ︻ ︼ ︽ ︾ ︿ ﹀ ﹁ ﹂ ﹃ ﹄ ﹅ ﹆ ﹇ ﹈ ﹉ ﹊ ﹋ ﹌ ﹍ ﹎ ﹏ ﹐ ﹑ ﹒ ﹔ ﹕ ﹖ ﹗ ﹘ ﹙ ﹚ ﹛ ﹜ ﹝ ﹞ ﹟ ﹠ ﹡ ﹣ ﹨ ﹪ ﹫ ! " # % & ' ( ) * , - . / : ; ? @ [ \ ] _ { } ⦅ ⦆ 。 「 」 、 ・ 𐄀 𐄁 𐎟 𐏐 𐡗 𐤟 𐤿 𐩐 𐩑 𐩒 𐩓 𐩔 𐩕 𐩖 𐩗 𐩘 𐩿 𐬹 𐬺 𐬻 𐬼 𐬽 𐬾 𐬿 𑁇 𑁈 𑁉 𑁊 𑁋 𑁌 𑁍 𑂻 𑂼 𑂾 𑂿 𑃀 𑃁 𒑰 𒑱 𒑲 𒑳

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