Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Stay Positive: Shady Characters

I just finished Keith Houston's Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, & Other Typographical Marks. For a word and writing enthusiast like me, it's a great book.

Houston takes readers through the interesting histories of a number of typographical marks. Below are the ones he covers by chapter:
  1. The Pilcrow (¶)
  2. The Interrobang
  3. The Octothorpe (#)
  4. The Ampersand (&)
  5. The @ Symbol
  6. The Asterisk and Dagger
  7. The Hyphen
  8. The Dash
  9. The Manicule
  10. Quotation Marks
  11. Irony and Sarcasm
Along the way you learn about the history of texts -- how people wrote and read them and how editorial conventions changed and became regularized even though people are still trying to work in new typographical marks in this chaotic age of the InterWebs. ;-)

In a number of chapters, the pilcrow, the octothorpe and the ampersand (the ampersand in this typeface [see above] gives the meaning away if you know some Latin) in particular, it clearly all started with the Greeks and Romans. Then you have folks who are hocking their typographical wares by promoting the interrrobang (Martin K. Speckter), the snark mark (Choz Cunningham), and the SarcMark (Paul and Douglas J. Sak). 

And I really dig the manicule. We need to start using those more often. 

In the chapter about the ampersand, I picked up an acronym or Latin saying I can use in my emails: SVBEV, which stands for si vales, bene est, valeo, translated as "If you are well, all is right; I am well." 

Also, in the chapter about quotation marks, Houston informs readers about these notations used at the ancient Library of Alexandria: "the diple, or 'double' (>) was placed alongside a line to indicate some noteworthy text, while its dolled up sibling, the diple periestigmene (>:), or 'dotted diple,' was used to mark passages where the scholar differed with the reading of other critics."  

When I read books, I write in them and often underline important passages and note really important ones with asterisks (*) of varying degrees. For example, if a passage gets underlined or bracketed and noted with three asterisks (***), that means I need to put it into my commonplace book. Now because I know about the diple and double diple, I have new tools in my reading arsenal. I need to incorporate the dagger too. 

If you get geeked up about the history of text-related practices like I've described above, you need to buy Shady Characters.  

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