@: The fulcrum of our digital identities

The Unlikely Evolution of  @ (@ Fast Company) 

Once a bookkeeper’s shorthand, @ has become the fulcrum of our digital identities. How did that happen?

“In Danish, the symbol is known as an “elephant’s trunk a”; the French call it an escargot. It’s a streudel in German, a monkey’s tail in Dutch, and a rose in Istanbul. In Italian, it’s named after a huge amphora of wine…

In 1971, a keyboard with a vestigial @ symbol inherited from its typewriter ancestors found itself hooked up to an ARPANET terminal manned by Ray Tomlinson…

“It’s difficult to imagine anyone in Tomlinson’s situation choosing anything other than the ‘@’ symbol, but his decision to do so at the time was inspired,” explains Houston on his blog. “Firstly, it was extremely unlikely to occur in any computer or user names; secondly, it had no other significant meaning for the operating system on which it would run, and lastly, it read intuitively–user ‘at’ host.”

READ THIS POST because it’s wonderful. I especially love the identification of @ as the fulcrum of an email address. Because it IS one!

And then if you can resist pre-ordering Keith Houston’s upcoming book you’re a stronger person than I. (Come on. It’s called Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation. How could I/you resist?) 

#$*&^! = Grawlix

>> A word for that: Grawlix

Until its OED entry is solemnized, we’ll have to settle for this definition on Wiktionary: “grawlixn. A string of typographical symbols used (especially in comic strips) to represent an obscenity or swear word.” I don’t think I’ll ever look at a character set quite the same way again.

%^&*@ing glorious!

Read the whole thing at Hoefler & Frere-Jones (via @GrammarMonkeys and @mental_floss)

The Oxford comma: dead at the hands of serial killers

I give a #%*^ about the Oxford comma.  I’m known for giving a #%*^ about the Oxford comma. But sadly, this sudden palaver over its threatened extinction (at the hands of its eponymous university, no less) is just a bureaucratic nail in an already-long-buried coffin. As a proofreader in Australia, I must (at least during working hours) adhere to the ‘current trends’ in Australian writing style, and that means NO SERIAL COMMAS EVER (except if absolutely needed for the sake of clarity, which isn’t any fun at all).

So as far as I’m (professionally) concerned, the Oxford comma has already been eradicated, or is at least seriously endangered, teetering on the brink of extinction. It lingers only as a ghost, destroyed by a gradual succession of serial killers*: style guides in ruthless pursuit of minimalist punctuation.

R, I, P.

Over at Salon.com, Mary Elizabeth Williams has already said almost everything else I would say on the topic. Most importantly, she a) clarifies the extent to which Oxford University is eliminating its eponymous comma (that is, no more than most institutions already have); and b) embedded the obvious Vampire Weekend video clip.

Now, two things about this video clip: Firstly, its total number of hits must have jumped phenomenally in the past 24 hours. Secondly, IT WAS DIRECTED BY THE WONDERFUL RICHARD AYOADE (of The IT Crowd, of course). And if that isn’t a joyful note on which to end a sombre post, I don’t know what is.

*Yes, I went there.

Em dashes and En dashes: A breadth of difference

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An em dash (—) can be used for almost anything: instead of a colon (such as the preceding), to replace parentheses (such as the preceding, and current), or just to represent a sudden change of direction in logic*.

An en dash (–) is somewhat more limited in its utility. Limited to two uses, in fact: firstly, as shorthand for “from” and “to”, à la 9am–5pm; and secondly, to hyphenate two words where one is actually part of another word pairing. As in “post–afternoon tea“, or”anti–Tony Abbott“.

On the other hand, ordinary single pairings like “long, dark tea-time” and “anti-troglodyte” (respectively) require nothing wider than a hyphen.

Based on Mental Floss (where knowledge junkies get their fix). ]

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{ via ilovetypography }

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So the next time someone tries to tell you there’s no difference between an em dash and an en dash, might I suggest you draw their attention to the difference between forMication and forNication?

And if they STILL insist that the difference doesn’t matter, why not offer to release a bucket of crawling, gnashing ants in their general direction.

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* But not all at once. Consider the absurdity of the following:

“Em dashes can be used for almost anything — instead of a colon — such as the preceding — to replace parentheses — such as the preceding, and current — or just to represent a sudden change of direction in logic.”

… THAT doesn’t work at all.

Here be Pilcrows! More punctuation plunder

While answering my interrobang queries, the wild seas of Wikipedia kindly churned up all manner of odd punctuation, glyphs and symbols, from the truly obscure to those more commonplace, though their names are not.

I have trawled through the treasure trove, and here is the booty:

Uncharted Waters

⁂ = Asterism (next sub-chapter!)

¤ = Currency (when specific currency sign unavailable. Useful!)

· = Interpunct (re: spaces, graphemes and pronunciation)

†‡ = Daggers (re: footnotes, wicket-keepers and dead people)

It’s called what now?

/ = Solidus (not “slash”)

^ = Caret (not “little up arrow above 6”)

¶ = Pilcrow or Alinea (not “paragraph sign”)

` = Prime (not “the other thing on the tilda key”)

First published at tumblr Proof (v.)

Why so obscure‽ (An open letter to The Interrobang)


Dear Interrobang,
You ingenious exclamation mark/question mark hybrid, you,

How is it that you have hitherto been absent from my life‽
Why so obscure

Is it because you’ve only been around since 1967, the invention of (oh, the indignity) an advertising guy‽ Is it because you, like my maligned friend fora, are ‘non-standard’ and therefore thoroughly unused and uncool‽

Is it because I have to look you up in Character Map every time I want to use you‽

…Maybe you should get out more. I mean, you’re not even in the OED. If only you had made an effort to gain popular currency, we might have met sooner.

Well, now that we’ve been properly introduced, I suppose I shall make an effort to keep in touch. In times of indignation and disbelief, I shall look you up, interrobang.



First published at tumblr Proof (v.)

The Apostrophe Man strikes again!

First published at tumblr Proof (v.)

(via smartplanet.com)

Oh for goodness’ sake*, people: V’s”?!

And would that be more than one “v”; an abbreviation of versus’s or versu’s;…

image via Libertas

image via Libertas

…or something belonging to V?

Whatever happened to “vs”, or “vs.”, or even just “v”?

* This apostrophe is an important, yet oft-forgotten one. See here for more on the correct punctuation of minced oaths.