Good morning to you all! I trust that all is well with all of you today! Writing in the FT, Keith Houston reports that punctuation is not the sort of subject that readily gets the juices flowing, but for every staid comma or colon there’s a flamboyant asterisk or dagger itching for its time in the sun. Here are four scandalously overlooked typographic outliers: the pilcrow (¶), the ampersand (&), the at-symbol (@) and the interrobang (‽).
I sometimes use the ampersand (&) and the at-symbol (@), particularly online, it is part of my email address, for example, but never the the pilcrow (¶) nor the interrobang (‽). Amongst other punctuation marks, I also rather like using the semi-colon (. How about you?
A panda walks into a café. She orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.
"Why?" asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over her shoulder.
"Well, I'm a panda," she says. "Look it up."
The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation.
"Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."
Certainly an interesting book! There is another notice of it on the back page of the TLS (September 20th). It explains why amercians talk about "pound signs": "Twitter users may not know it but they are likely to be addicts of the octothorpe, a symbol with a Latin provenance. Now more commonly known as a hashtag, the octothorpe first served as an abbreviation of "libra pondo," (a pound by weight) in mediæval England. The "lb" was written with a tilde just above the mid-height of the letters to signify a contraction, and was thence corrupted into "#" by rushing scribes. "Pound" later became "number" before evolving into a variety of different signifiers, including a copy-editor's space, a chess player's checkmate and a Tweeter's keyword."
Thus the TLS. So it is the pound weight they are talking about. But since the word "octothorpe" does not appear in the OED its origin remains a mystery.
Something else I have noticed is that before 1908 there were two types of dashes: a long and a short. I regret the disappearance of the distinction.