A post from Shady Characters

Miscellany № 47½: the creator speaks!

I’m very pleased to say that Michele Buchanan, owner of getthepoint.me and creator of its new marks of punctuation, got in touch this week to discuss her project. Her three new marks — the ironic or sarcastic asterisk (*), the equivocal tilde (~),* and the happy double-parenthesis (‘))’) — sparked quite a discussion last time here at Shady Characters, and it’s great to have Michele add her voice to the debate.

I asked Michele a little about herself, and she was gracious in responding to my questions. She hails from Manitoba, Canada, and has worked as a graphic designer for “the better part of three decades”; she is a devoted Mac-user, a cinema fan, and an aficionado of robots — a set of interests that practically begs for a Venn diagram, does it not? getthepoint.me is a thesis project carried out for her MFA at Savannah College of Art and Design, but more on that from Michele herself:

I was wandering down a different road originally for my [MFA] Thesis subject when I came across an old process book for a typography class I had completed the year before. I was frustrated with one of the projects, that essentially had us designing icons. I had noted my dissatisfaction (really a bit of rant) and suggested that a more worthwhile use of our time would be to address the problems of communication with type that we currently face. I even had a few prototypes of some new punctuation marks that were amalgams of existing forms. It wasn’t until I started to really dig into the problem and contemplate a solution that I realized that to make this effort anything other than wildly theoretical, implementation couldn’t rely on brand-new marks. Making use of new punctuation needed to be as simple and effortless as possible to encourage use, so let’s just use what we already have.

The most interesting thing I discovered was the result of the surveys I did. I asked about the frequency of miscommunication across a lot of intellectual and emotional expressions, and was really shocked at how high it was in ALL categories. Why would ‘happy’ be so frequently be misunderstood, or ‘thanks’ (for example). After mulling that over for a bit I came to the conclusion that the real villain of the piece is sarcasm. Particularly in the teen demographic I surveyed, there is hardly anything they can say that couldn’t be (and often is) turned into a sarcastic slam. When you can hear tone, and see a curled lip well then it is easy to see what the intention is, but not so with just written words. Perhaps the anticipation of sarcasm is something of a reflex, and makes nearly everything suspect. As I state on my web site (and thesis), having a mark that identifies sarcasm allows nearly all other statements/expressions to default to a sincere interpretation.

So there you have it. I’m intrigued by the application of survey data to the design of new marks — I can’t help but wonder how the results would look with a broader set of data points. Is conveying sarcasm a problem for the majority of internet users? Is ambivalence or confusion under-punctuated? Perhaps Michele and I should collaborate on a survey of Shady Characters’ readers. That said, we might skew the data somewhat — it’s hard to imagine a more punctuation-savvy group of people!

Michele has already responded thoughtfully to some of last week’s comments (here, here, and here) and I’m sure she’ll be keeping an eye on this post for more. Alternatively, she tweets as @get_my_point and maintains a Facebook page for the getthepoint project — I’m sure she’d love to hear from you.

So: thank you again, Michele, for getting in touch, and for putting your creations out there for us to mull over!

*
“Equivocal Tilde” would be a great name for an indie band, don’t you think? ↩︎

2 comments on “Miscellany № 47½: the creator speaks!

  1. Comment posted by Korhomme on

    The ~ to mean ‘about’ is interesting. It reminds me of the mathematical symbol ≈ which I understand to mean approximately equal. And, rather than inventing new symbols, it might be easier to appropriate some from maths. I have no idea what the meaning of most of them is—there are dozens—but it might be a quick and easy fix to make comprehension easier and clearer.

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi Korhomme — I agree; the appropriation of ‘~’ is a great idea. In a similar way, I’m drawn to the use of ‘¡’ for irony; if we take it that the inverted exclamation mark stands for ‘i’, or the square root of -1, it would certainly attach a feeling of paradox or contradiction to a statement.

      What other marks might we use?

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