The first stage of this year’s Tour de France ran from Mont-Saint-Michel to Utah Beach/Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, along the north-west coast of the Manche region, on the second of July. As the riders followed the 188km route, they passed through the little town of Gouville-sur-Mer, which, in the time-honoured tradition of provincial villages that the Tour visits but once every few decades or so, laid out its slogan for the TV helicopter to see: Gouville-sur-Mer, capitale mondiale de l’huître de pleine mer (Gouville-on-sea, world capital of the open sea oyster).
So now you know.
World oyster capital though it may be, Gouville-sur-Mer is not, evidently, the world capital of diacritics: the noble circumflex, which should have reigned proudly over the word huître, was nowhere to be seen. Nor were any other non-alphabetic marks — not the hyphens that should have appeared in Gouville-sur-Mer or the comma that should have come after it, and not the apostrophe that should have punctuated l’huître. And yes, tweets and instant messages may be increasingly doing without their full stops, but I could have handled one appearing here. For shame, Gouville-sur-Mer! I salute your oyster credentials but I deplore your aerial typography.
In other news, reader Hillel Smith dropped me a line to follow up on the discussion here, a couple of months back, on Winston Churchill’s unusual approach to punctuating the notes for his speeches. Hillel wrote to tell me about a similar approach taken by President Lyndon Johnson on the occasion of the signing ceremony of the Civil Rights Act on the 2nd of July, 1964 — or at least a similar approach taken by whoever had prepared Johnson’s teleprompter notes. The image below is the first part of the text that appeared to Johnson that day on the teleprompter:
You can click through to see more of the speech at the Library of Congress’s exhibit on the Civil Rights Act — and you most definitely should, because what this image doesn’t show is the nuanced approach to ellipses that prevails throughout. In Johnson’s speech, one dot is used to mean a full stop, two dots a short pause, three a longer pause, and so on. Where Churchill used indentation, Lyndon B. Johnson used ellipses of varying lengths; clearly, politicians are not averse to bending punctuation to their own purposes, and I wonder what other novel uses of punctuation might be lurking out there in the great speeches of the world.
You might have seen people on social media posting pictures of semicolons drawn or tattooed on their wrists or elsewhere on their bodies. […] Non-profit mental health organisation, The Semicolon Project, is encouraging anyone who has been through depression, anxiety, or had suicidal thoughts, to draw a semicolon on their wrist. While some have settled for a temporary ‘tat’ drawn on in biro, others have committed by getting inked.
I’m ashamed to say it took me some time to investigate further and even longer to post the results here today, but I’m glad that I did. I got in touch with Amy Bluel, the founder of what is more properly called Project Semicolon, to ask her about the semicolon and what it symbolized. She told me:
I chose the semicolon for our symbol because a semicolon is used when an author could’ve ended a sentence but chose not to. A semicolon symbolizes a pause or continuance. We are saying you are the author and the sentence is your life. You are choosing to continue.
It’s a noble aim. I’m glad that Michał brought it to my attention and that Amy was able to answer my questions, so thank you both! You can learn more at the Project Semicolon website or, if you need help with or would like more information about a mental health issue, please see the NHS’s list of mental health helplines.
Lastly, if punctuation is one of the typographic tools we use to clarify the meaning of the written word, then capital letters are another. Reader Glenn Fleischman wrote to let me know about a pair of articles he published recently on the use of uppercase letters as a signifier of shouting — not, as you might think, a phenomenon specific to the internet, but one with a much longer history. His articles, “CAPITAL CRIMES, PART 1: SHOUT, SHOUT, LET IT ALL OUT” and “CAPITAL CRIMES, Part 2: Usenet has no CHILL”, are well worth a read.
That’s all for now! Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy this week’s links.