Friday, July 12, 2013

The Wide World Of Punctuation: Part 1

A couple of weeks ago we gave a brief introduction to orthography in which we mentioned the importance of punctuation. It turns out that there is far more punctuation in existence than most of us use on a daily basis, let alone know about, so we'll be taking the next two days to explore the fascinating world of punctuation.

Before we dive right in, it's important to know the purpose of punctuation. These marks are basically symbols that we use to help organize written language. They can convey intonation, pauses, and meaning, and are used in different ways by different languages.

A pilcrow is not a type of crow!
We hope you already know how to use basic punctuation like question marks, apostrophes, commas, and exclamation points. At the very least, you should have a good handle on how to use periods, also known as full stops. Today though, we're more interested in exciting punctuation with names like "interrobang" and "pilcrow".

 - The interrobang is pretty self-explanatory. It combines the characteristics of an exclamation point and a question mark. If they showed up on keyboards, you would see far more Facebook statuses that looked like "She said WHAT‽" instead of an endless sea of both punctuation marks.

* - It is most commonly known as an asterisk, though some call it a star or a splat. They can be used to identify footnotes, emphasis, and corrections to a text. As of late, they're most popularly used to censor or avoid profanity.

 - Stack three asterisks in a triangle and you get an asterism, which sounds dangerous, but isn't. You generally only find them in literature, such as separating sub-chapters in a book.

Dagger Lake, Washington
 - Like the asterisk, the dagger, or obelisk, is used to tell you that there's a footnote in the text you're reading. However, it is also used to indicate death. Yes, really. If you ever see the dagger immediately before or after a person's name, it likely means they're deceased. Likewise, a dagger next to a word in the Oxford English Dictionary means that it is obsolete!

 - There's also the double dagger, known as the diesis, which is rarely seen. On a book page filled with footnotes, you may find it denoting the third footnote, with an asterisk used for the first and a dagger for the second.

 - You may call it a paragraph mark, but its original name is the pilcrow. It's mostly used as an indent to make separate paragraphs, and lurks behind the scenes in the formatting of all your Word documents.

Finally, here's a great (albeit insane) example of the importance of punctuation. It's a grammatical puzzle, in which you must add punctuation to create a sentence that actually has meaning. It is:

James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher

Add any punctuation you feel necessary, and if you'd like, leave us your guesses in the comments below! We'll have the answer for you at the end of Part 2 post tomorrow. We suggest trying to do it yourself instead of looking up the answer...