A post from Shady Characters

Miscellany № 21

Mental Floss recently published a primer on the many and varied uses of the em (—) and en dashes (–), including a mention of my personal favourite, the “compound adjective hyphen”. This is the case where a compound term such as “Pulitzer Prize” is joined to another term not with a hyphen but instead an assertive en dash to yield, for instance, “Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist”. And if your interest is piqued by Mental Floss’s brief treatment of the usage of the dash, then hopefully the chapter on its history in the upcoming Shady Characters book will be worth waiting for!


Moving away from punctuation for a moment, I very much enjoyed Ralf Hermann’s article on “Typographic Myth Busting: What’s a Ligature, Anyway?”. Ligatures – simply put, two or more letters rendered as a single combined character, though Ralf can educate you further on the finer points of the definition – are one of those typographic flourishes that bring the page to life, and yet are often so subtle as to be virtually undetectable. Ralf also delves into the tricky history of the peculiarly German long s–short s ligature (ſs), or eszett (ß). It’s a beautiful and enlightening article.


The interrobang continues to crop up in unexpected cases, if in name only: Tusk, a band from Newcastle, are planning to release an EP entitled Interrobang early next year. As you might expect, I have already asked them how they got the idea, and I await their answer with bated breath.


Lastly, Gawker reports on a quite magnificent attempt to reform political language in the USA. Max Read writes that a petition to “replace the period symbol with the cool sunglasses emoticon to foster a much chiller discourse in the United States” gained all of nine signatures before being removed by White House moderators.

The “cool sunglasses emoticon”, lest we forget, looks like this: 😎; I, for one, cannot see why this noble effort had to be so cruelly hushed up by The Man.

With that, it’s time for me to sign off for the year. Thank you all for continuing to read and comment – without you, there would be no Shady Characters book or blog! – and I hope you’ll keep coming back for more. Enjoy the holidays, have a great Hogmanay, and Shady Characters will be back in the New Year!

3 comments on “Miscellany № 21

  1. Comment posted by Frédéric Grosshans on

    Note that the said emoticon is a unicode character since Unicode 6.0 (october 2010) as U+1F60E SMILING FACE WITH SUNGLASSES 😎

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi Frédéric — thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, it looks like Constantia (the typeface used here on most Windows machines) doesn’t support the Unicode glyph. I wonder how best to petition type foundries to add new characters…? It’s high time characters such as the interrobang and the smiling-face-with-sunglasses got a bit of love!

  2. Comment posted by Solo Owl on

    Try Segoe UI Symbol or Deja Vu Sans. I think both are available on Windows by default. (You may need an app like BabelMap to use the Uniocode Supplementary Planes. http://www.babelstone.co.uk)

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