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Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, & Other Typographical Marksby Keith Houston
Synopses & Reviews
Every day we rely on punctuation marks to help us say what we mean, but where did they come from? Consider the ampersand (&), which started life as Pompeian graffiti, or the at sign (@), which languished in obscurity for centuries until rescued by the Internet. These and a host of other intriguing marks populate Keith Houston’s rollicking and richly illustrated Shady Characters. From the Library of Alexandria to the halls of Bell Labs—across time, alphabets, and countries—readers will meet figures as diverse as Charlemagne, Vladimir Nabokov, and George W. Bush as they learn about marks as obscure as the interrobang, as omnipresent as the hashtag (#), and as divisive as the dash (—). Whether investigating what the pilcrow (¶) has to do with medieval Christianity or what became of many ill-fated attempts to produce a standard sarcasm mark, Shady Characters provides a charming and indispensable perspective on two thousand years of the written word.
"For fans of Lynn Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves, this bestiary of lesser-known punctuation marks is a wonder. Blogger Houston, though a self-admitted amateur in the world of typography, speaks with all the enthusiasm of a true geek. The book is liberally sprinkled with footnotes (and a hefty 50 pages of end notes), appropriate considering that nearly every punctuation symbol in this book gained its start from the annotation marks of monks, scribes, or scholars. (The chapter on daggers and asterisks, of course, uses those symbols to mark the asides.) Some game-changers, like the sudden confines of the typing press or the yet-more-restrictive typewriter, extend their influence across numerous chapters. Each character brings its own brand of intrigue, from the closed case of why paragraphs are now indented — the blank space was left for the pilcrow, Â¶, which lazy or hurried scribes left out — to the murkier question of who named the octothorpe. The # is not, as Twitter might have you believe, officially called a hashtag. True, the differences between seven kinds of dashes and hyphens are not life-and-death matters, but for anyone interested in the quirks of English punctuation without a lecture about how grammar is dead, this book satisfies that curiosity nicely. 75 illus. Agent: Laurie Abkemeier, DeFiore and Company. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The surprising stories of some well-known—and some outlandish—marks of punctuation.
From ancient Greece to the Internet—via the Renaissance, Gutenberg, and Madison Avenue—Shady Characters exposes the secret history of punctuation.
A charming and indispensable tour of two thousand years of the written word, Shady Characters weaves a fascinating trail across the parallel histories of language and typography.
Whether investigating the asterisk (*) and dagger (
About the Author
Keith Houston is the creator of the Shady Characters blog. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.
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