The 2017 Shady Characters gift guide

The year is coming to an end and that can mean only one thing: it’s time for me to promote my books!

I’m kidding. Sort of, at least. Fatherhood has occupied most of the time that, in previous years, I would have spent hunting down punctuation-related gifts for you, the discerning reader. That said, I’ve been interested in the comings and goings surrounding emoji (“picture writing”, or symbols like “😊” and “🎁”) for some time now, and in doing so I came across Josh Williams’ pleasingly minimal “Unicalendar” for the year 2018.

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Miscellany № 83: Thomas Jefferson’s ivory polyptych

“An ivory what?” you may well ask. In the process of researching and writing The Book (which is, need I say, available from all good bookshops), I came across any number of tidbits that lay just fractionally below the interesting-ness threshold required for inclusion in the book. One discovery in particular, though, has had me kicking myself since I first handed in the manuscript back in 2015, and I still wish I’d found a way to incorporate it into the narrative. Here it is!

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Miscellany № 82: the Future (and the Past) of Text

On Monday 11th September I gave a talk at Southampton University for the 2017 edition of a yearly symposium called “The Future of Text”. I’ve known Frode Hegland, its organiser, for a few years now (we first corresponded back in 2014, as I was finishing the manuscript for The Book, and he’s a fellow immigrant here in South London) but I must confess to having been a terrible conference tease. Each time he has asked me to participate, I’ve made positive noises and then subsequently had to back out because of one thing or another.

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Miscellany № 81: Toward a Taxonomy of the Interrobang

Remember the interrobang‽ Of course you do! That’s the kind of rhetorical question for which the interrobang is perfectly suited. I’ve been thinking about Martin K. Speckter’s punctuation mark of late for a couple of reasons: first, a Google alert turned up an obituary of a Minnesotan poet named J. Otis Powell‽. I hadn’t known of Powell‽ previously — I’d have loved to have been able to ask him about his surname! — but Minnpost explains his unusual name as follows:

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Miscellany № 80: irony archaeology

In the wake of my last post (Miscellany № 79: jè?), I was doing a bit of digging into the history of emoticons — those recumbent smileys used to signify happiness (:)), sadness (:(), mehness (:|) and so on — when I came across Scott Fahlman’s personal website. Fahlman is the man famous for inventing the emoticon and, although I’ve written about him before, both here and in the Shady Characters book, in both cases I skated over the exact circumstances of his invention because, well, I didn’t know what they were. Having found his webpage at Carnegie Mellon University, however, I now find that the whole story has been there for the reading for a decade or more!

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