Miscellany № 12

Emoticons are, it turns out, rather older than I had thought. Last month the photo blog Retronaut posted images of an 1881 issue of Puck magazine depicting proto-smileys constructed from parentheses, stops and other typographic marks, just like their modern counterparts.

Emoticons in Puck magazine, 1881

Emoticons in Puck magazine, 1881, via Retronaut. (Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

I find “Melancholy” to be almost ineffably sad, though the perky can-do attitude of “Joy” acts as a fortunate counterweight. Perhaps the Victorians were not quite as dour as we imagine them to be.

Kurt Vonnegut may have famously derided semicolons as “transvestite hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing”, but the much-maligned mark recently received a veritable love letter from Ben Dolnick, writing in the New York Times. Rather than attempt to summarise Ben’s article, I prefer to quote a single line from it that to me explains precisely why the semicolon is an absolute necessity:
No other piece of punctuation so compactly captures the way in which our thoughts are both liquid and solid, wave and particle.

For a lapsed physicist like myself, and in the wake of the likely discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN, this seems most appropriate. The semicolon is a fundamental particle of punctuation: its origins lie in Aristophanes’ ancient points just as surely as do those of the colon, full stop or exclamation mark, and, like Ben, I can only hope that the semicolon will continue to soldier on beside them.

Lastly, I’ve only just discovered an excellent, ongoing series of posters created by Joe Stone at Glyph, a UK-based design studio. Joe has tackled the octothorpe, interrobang, infinity symbol (∞) and more, and I hope that he keeps up the good work.

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