From Shady Characters

About

Photo by Cate Gillon
Photo by Cate Gillon.

I’m Keith Houston. By day I write medical visualization software but by night I cycle, play bass and write about punctuation. You can say hi on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Goodreads, or get in touch via the Contact page.


As I write in the Introduction, Shady Characters is all about the stories behind different marks of punctuation. I started writing on this subject back in 2008 at the suggestion of a friend and over the course of the next two years I finished rough essays on a variety of different marks; this site is here to let me polish things up and publish those essays to a wider audience. Also, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a way of giving something back to all the people who helped me unpick some obscure point of punctuation history or who pointed me in the right direction when it seemed I’d hit a dead end.

Please note that I’m a complete amateur in the worlds of punctuation and typography; although I’ve done my best to verify everything here through references to other works, there are almost certainly errors and omissions that a professional would not have made. I’d encourage you to take a look through the Further Reading and the references which accompany each entry to get the whole story.


The Colophon talks a little about the technology behind this site and the Licensing page sets out copyright.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoy your visit!

19 comments on “About

  1. Comment posted by khushboo Salian on

    love the design of your blog :)

  2. Comment posted by Alan Peel on

    Fascinating and nicely written. Get an editor and a publisher and work a book deal. You know, in your spare time.

  3. Comment posted by Jim Forest on

    Gorgeous type (what font is it?), splendid writing, fascinating articles.

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi Jim — thanks! The font will depend on what you have installed on your computer, but Shady Characters will try to use, in order, one of the following: Hoefler Text, Constantia, Palatino, Palatino Linotype, Book Antiqua, Georgia or a generic serif font. The Colophon gives a bit more detail.

  4. Comment posted by Levi Montgomery on

    Recommended here by either Language Hat or Language log (don’t remember which), where it was said that “the typography is lovely.”

    I have to agree. Just my two cents on the typeface issue.

  5. Comment posted by Prem Rao on

    Pleasure being here, Keith. Like many others awfully impressed by the neat and clean look. Great use of open spaces and the fonts stand out so well.

    Came here following Laurie Abkemeier’s tweet. Will visit frequently and follow your tweets.

  6. Comment posted by Bill Westerman on

    Just found this site. What a treat! Always have loved the ampersand, so great to learn the back story.

  7. Comment posted by Sascha F Zeller on

    Dear Keith,

    I was wondering if you could perhaps help me out with the following characters seen on a commemorative stamp for Heydrich, in which the usual characters for born (*) and died (+) are rendered as follows:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Heydrichmarke.jpg
    Never seen anything like this before and am wondering where they came from (my guess is some form of Runen).
    Thanks for your time.

    1. Comment posted by Lora Jacobs on

      jr@coastalcg.com told me this: “These are Norse runes that were adopted by the T.R. The traditional symbols which these replaced for birth and death were * and +.

      The T.R. extensively used Norse runes for emblems or symbols for some of its military divisions, and sometimes the same symbol was used for multiple divisions.

    2. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi Lora — thanks for the comment. It’s interesting to see Norse runes used as punctuation in roman script, but it’s unfortunate that the context is so distasteful. It does rather discourage further investigation!

  8. Comment posted by Michael Evamy on

    Hello Keith. I’m very, very excited about finding your website. It’s a wonderful place to spend some time.

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi Michael — thanks! It’s been a pleasure to write, and I’m glad you’re enjoying reading it too.

  9. Comment posted by Denis Waugh on

    Ah , the pilcrow! A joy to see it’s return the the mainstream, well, sort of, but at least a recognition and some of it’s history. I was alerted to it by the great book designer Derek Birdsall and his typography for the Church of England’s more recent publications. It’s such a cheeky but tasteful little icon. I love it.

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi Denis — I recall reading John Morgan’s “Account of the making of Common Worship”, and Derek Birdsall (and his pilcrows!) make an appearance in there.

      Thanks for the comment!

  10. Comment posted by Denis Waugh on

    Keith,
    Ah yes, it was John Morgan who was assisting Derek Birdsall when they were designing my “Searching the Thames” book. A great team, both of them. Have you seen Derek’s “Notes on Book Design”. It’s all good stuff. As is your beautifully designed “Shady Characters” book. It gives great joy.

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      I’ll have to have a look for your book! Thanks for the kind words, and I’m glad you’re enjoying Shady Characters.

  11. Comment posted by athena anders on

    Hi Keith,

    As an expert in punctuation, I was wondering if you know why we use a colon in the salutation and a comma in the complimentary closing? I live in Canada and this is the standard punctuation we use in business letters.

    Who invented business letter punctuation?

    I look forward to your reply.

    A. Anders

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Dear Athena,

      I’m afraid I haven’t looked into business letter punctuation at all, and so I can’t shed much light on your questions. This article suggests that we’ve been writing business letters in English since the 15th century, but unfortunately I don’t have access to the journal to read more. Sorry I can’t be of more help! Might a Google search on the subject may help get you started?

      Thanks for the comment!

  12. Comment posted by Iain on

    Keith,

    Listened to ‘Word of Mouth’ today. Outstanding programme. Well done. Hugely interesting. We are currently listening to it again and will be purchasing the book.

    Iain

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