But first: interrobangs. This is shaping up to be a banner year for Martin K. Speckter’s creation. Having been selected by Pearson, the giant publishing firm, to form the nucleus of its new logo, the interrobang now pops up at Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft as the title of an upcoming exhibition of letterpress printing.
Oddly, the interrobang itself is nowhere to be seen on Ditchling Museum’s website (‽), but I can just about forgive their omission because of the pleasing conjunction that this all represents. The interrobang was the subject of the second chapter of Shady Characters book, but what was the subject of the first? It was the pilcrow (¶), of course, the preferred shady character of Ditchling’s most famous resident: the late Eric Gill, typographer, sculptor and posthumous scandal-merchant, who lived in the village for more than a decade.1
I’ve contacted Ditchling Museum to ask why they chose the interrobang to represent their exhibition, and whether they were aware of Eric Gill’s fondness for unconventional marks of punctuation (and, let’s face it, his fondness for unconventional everything else, too), but they have yet to reply. You’ll be the first to know.
Elsewhere, Gunther Schmidt of lexikaliker.de wrote to tell me about a recent article on Maria Popova’s reliably thought-provoking website Brainpickings in which Maria discusses a rather striking book of poetry. In the Land of Punctuation (originally Im Reich der Interpunktionen) was written in 1905 by the German poet Christian Morgenstern as a satirical trip through an imagined realm of punctuation, but this new edition has been translated into English by Sirish Rao and illustrated — spectacularly — by Rathna Ramanathan.
Maria elaborates on the book’s origins:
Morgenstern, a sort of German Lewis Carroll who crafted literary nonsense with an aphoristic quality and a touch of wry wisdom, was in his early thirties when he wrote the poem — a jocular parable of how dividing a common lot into warring subgroups produces only devastation and no winners. That he died mere months before the start of WWI only lends the piece an eerie air of prescient poignancy.
Accompanying all this are Ramanathan’s excellent illustrations. In the Land of Punctuation is available now from Tara Books.
Lastly this week, reader Ben Denckla got in touch to point me towards his in-depth account of preparing an e-book by scanning an original printed edition — and the frequent punctuational conundrums that crept in as he did so. The book was Lionel Lord Tennyson’s 1933 autobiography, From Verse to Worse, and you can read about Ben’s travails in bringing it to fruition here.
Ben writes that he often runs into trouble at hyphenated line breaks: should “un-ionised”, broken across a line, be interpreted as “unionised” or “un-ionised”? A human copyeditor could almost certainly pick the right one (God help them if not), but a computer without the appropriate natural language processing abilities is stumped. What Ben wonders, then, is this: is it time for a graphical distinction between line-end and compound-word hyphens? That is, where a single word is broken across a line, should the resulting line-end hyphen be shown as, say, a tilde (∼)* rather than a plain hyphen (-)? Broken across a line, “un∼ionised” would be correctly understood to mean “unionised”, while the compound word “un-ionised”, with a conventional hyphen, remains “un-ionised”.
This has to be one of the few situations where a proposed new mark of punctuation clarifies a genuinely problematic area of typography, and I must thank Ben for telling me about it. What say you?