Miscellany № 44: clampersands and dieses

First off, I give you The Adjustable Clampersand. Need I say more?

Actually, I do. As much as you or I might want to lay our hands on one of these glorious devices, we’ll just have to wait. As Hand-Eye Supply explains on the clampersand’s product page,

Sad news! The machine shop at the Foundry where our next run of Clampersands was being finished burned down and our latest run was destroyed. Here’s the news story via NBC Chicago. Fortunately no one was seriously injured, and a new run of Clampersands is expected soon.

Hand-Eye say that a new foundry will be, well, found as soon as possible, and clampersand shipments will resume in mid-April. (Hat tip to I Love Typography for the link!)

The origins of the diesis, or ‘‡’, have remained obscure to me since I first started researching its singular sibling, the dagger (†).[1] The word “diesis” was once used in music to represent a sharp (and indeed in French, the related dièse still is), while its etymology, coming from the Greek δίεσις or “sending through”, does have a hint of piercing or cutting to it.[2] Separately, the visual appearance of the diesis is clearly a straightforward “doubling” of the dagger.

The questions that remain, then, are these: when did the typographic diesis appear, and why? Reader Ivan Bececco sent me a link to his own investigation on the matter (in Italian, here), though unless Google Translate has entirely misled me as to the contents of his article, Ivan too concludes that we just don’t know where the diesis came from. Having looked back through my own notes, none of the typographic references I’ve looked at discuss the history of this familiar but mysterious mark.[3][4][5][6]

So: can any Shady Characters readers shed any light on this? Did the diesis originate with printing, or before it? How did the dagger become the double dagger, and how did it get its name?

In other news, the New York Times tackles the hyphen; Mike Parker, populariser of Neue Haas Grotesk (Helvetica to you and me) has died, and the BBC and The Guardian take a look back at the man and his favoured typeface; Stan Carey takes on “emphatic” quotation marks at the Macmillan Dictionary Blog; and the intricacies of interpreting seventeenth-century semicolons is explored by Christopher M. Graney.

Thanks for reading!

  • [1] J. Hoefler, “House of Flying Reference Marks, or Quillon & Choil,” in typography.com. Hoefler and Frere-Jones, 2009. <http://www.typography.com/ask/showBlog.php?blogID=190> Bibtex

    @misc{JH2009,
      author = {Hoefler, Jonathan},
      booktitle = {typography.com},
      keywords = {dagger,obelisk,shady\_characters},
      mendeley-tags = {dagger,obelisk,shady\_characters},
      month = jun, publisher = {Hoefler and Frere-Jones},
      title = {{House of Flying Reference Marks, or Quillon \& Choil}},
      type = {Electronic citation},
      url = {http://www.typography.com/ask/showBlog.php?blogID=190},
      year = {2009}
    }
  • [2] “diesis, n.,” in OED Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. <http://www.oed.com/viewdictionaryentry/Entry/52420> Bibtex

    @electronic{OED-DIESIS, address = {Oxford},
      booktitle = {OED Online},
      keywords = { shady\_characters,obelisk},
      month = aug, publisher = {Oxford University Press},
      title = {diesis, n.},
      url = {http://www.oed.com/viewdictionaryentry/Entry/52420},
      year = {2012}
    }
  • [3] C. H. Timperley, “On References, &c.,” in A dictionary of printers and printing: with the progress of literature, ancient and modern, bibliographical illustrations …, H. Johnson, 1839, pp. 9-12. <http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=3O8DAAAAQAAJ> Bibtex

    @incollection{timperley1839dictionary,
      author = {Timperley, C H},
      booktitle = {A dictionary of printers and printing: with the progress of literature, ancient and modern, bibliographical illustrations ...},
      keywords = { dagger, obelisk, shady\_characters,asterisk},
      pages = {9--12},
      publisher = {H. Johnson},
      title = {{On References, \&c.}},
      url = {http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=3O8DAAAAQAAJ},
      year = {1839}
    }
  • [4] “Footnotes,” in Manual of style, being a compilation of the typographical rules in force at the University of Chicago press, to which are appended specimens of types in use., Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1906, pp. 71-73. <http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/18621241> Bibtex

    @incollection{CHICAGO-FOOTNOTES, address = {Chicago, IL},
      booktitle = {Manual of style, being a compilation of the typographical rules in force at the University of Chicago press, to which are appended specimens of types in use.},
      keywords = {asterisk,dagger,obelisk,shady\_characters},
      pages = {71--73},
      publisher = {University of Chicago Press},
      title = {{Footnotes}},
      url = {http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/18621241},
      year = {1906}
    }
  • [5] J. Johnson, “References,” in Typographia, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green, 1824, vol. 2, pp. 49-53. <http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=HHwsAAAAYAAJ> Bibtex

    @incollection{johnson1824typographia-references,
      author = {Johnson, J},
      booktitle = {Typographia},
      keywords = {manicule,shady\_characters},
      pages = {49--53},
      publisher = {Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown \& Green},
      series = {Typographia},
      title = {{References}},
      url = {http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=HHwsAAAAYAAJ},
      volume = {2},
      year = {1824}
    }
  • [6] T. Rosendorf, “Double dagger,” in The Typographic Desk Reference, New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Books, 2009, p. 42. <http://www.worldcat.org/isbn/9781584562313> Bibtex

    @inbook{TDR2009-double-dagger, abstract = {"This typography book is somewhere between a quick reference guide and an in-depth analysis. Limited to Latin-based writing systems with an emphasis on form and practical application."--Provided by publisher.},
      address = {New Castle, DE},
      author = {Rosendorf, Theodore},
      booktitle = {The Typographic Desk Reference},
      isbn = {9781584562313},
      pages = {42+},
      publisher = {Oak Knoll Books},
      title = {double dagger},
      url = {http://www.worldcat.org/isbn/9781584562313},
      year = {2009}
    }

Mea culpa № 2

This is a quick note to thank Tim Nau for his eagle-eyed contributions to the Shady Characters errata. As always, please don’t hesitate to get in touch or leave a comment below if you come across an error in any edition or format of Shady Characters. I’d appreciate it very much, and I’d be very happy to acknowledge you in future editions!

Miscellany № 43: sartalics \live\!

It’s a sad fact of life in this business (that is, the business of unusual punctuation marks) that many a promising mark has gone the way of the dodo. The SarcMark©, for instance, was a veritable punctuational mayfly; Paul Mathis’ attempt to rebrand ‘the’ as ‘Ћ’ was over almost as soon as it had begun; and so on, and so forth. The archives of this blog are littered with the corpses of failed innovations.

It is with some satisfaction, then, that I can now report that “Sartalics”, the digital reinterpretation of Tom Driberg’s “ironics”, or backwards-slanting italics, has recently been resuscitated. Nathan Hoang, one of the three advertising interns who launched sartalics.com back in 2011 (the others being June Kim and Blake Gilmore), has recently brought the long-dormant @Sartalics Twitter account back to life.

Rather than focusing on introducing an entirely new style of font, however, this time round Nathan is concentrating on the use of backslashes as a signal of ironic intent. I think this is actually a rather neat idea; the use of *asterisks* to imply bold or emphasised text is as old as the hills in Internet terms, and employing backslashes to convey \irony\ or \sarcasm\ is a very short leap from there. No fiddling with Unicode characters or font editors — textual sarcasm is right there at your fingertips. Clearly, though, sartalics in any form have a long way to go before they can claim to be in common use. As Nathan says himself,

Slow clap for #Sartalics. \A lot of progress\ since 2011.

What do you think? Is there a future for this most \useful\ of textual innovations?

As I research material for The Book I find myself subscribing to a whole new set of book- and manuscript-related blogs. Recently, at Jesse Hurlbut’s Manuscript Art blog, and apropos of nothing much at all, I came across this lovely decorative paragraph mark, or pilcrow. If you’re interested in seeing more, I highly recommend following Jesse’s blog.

In other news, Mark Libermann of UPenn’s Language Log blog brings to our attention the scandalous news that “EU rules ‘mean children can’t get life-saving cancer drugs’”; and, lastly, the ampersand inspires a poem at Magma Poetry.

Thanks for reading!

Mea culpa

Like many books, a few errors slipped through the net as I wrote Shady Characters and evaded even the practised gaze of Brendan Curry, my editor at W. W. Norton, and of Rachelle Mandik, our excellent copy-editor. Unlike some books, however, I’ve been lucky enough to have a cadre of eagle-eyed readers to pick up and help correct those mistakes. Without further ado, then, I give you the first instalment of Shady Characters’ errata. There will be more to come, I’m sure, as more editions are published (speaking of which, keep an eye out for the American paperback later this year!), but for now I must thank Mark Forsyth, Eric Johnson, Zoran Minderovic, Bill Pollack, Patrick Reagh, Jeff Shay, and Liz B. Veronis for helping point out and fix these errors.

As always, please don’t hesitate to get in touch or leave a comment below if you come across an error in any edition or format of Shady Characters. I’d appreciate it very much, and I’d be very happy to acknowledge you in future editions!

Calling all book groups

Last Friday, quite unexpectedly, I found myself chatting to a book group in NYC. Kristina Jelinek had mentioned on Twitter that she was reading Shady Characters for her book group at work; I offered to join in too, if they’d like to have me, and so I spent an absorbing forty-five minutes answering questions over Google Chat. (I’m Skype-literate too, I promise, but our Internet connection was uncooperative.) This coming Tuesday I’ll be at the Bonanza! book group at the Blue Blazer here in Edinburgh, and now that my appetite has been whetted I can’t wait.

So, to any and all book groups: if you’re reading, have read, or are planning to read Shady Characters, I would love to join your discussion! It’s great for me to have the chance to meet to the people who pay Shady Characters’ bills, so to speak, and perhaps I can return the favour by answering some of your questions about the book and the stories behind it. I can participate via Google or Facebook chat; on Twitter or Google+; on Skype or Google Hangouts; and everything in between. Drop me a line via the Contact page, or find me on Facebook, Twitter or Google+, and let’s get planning!

As a bonus, here are Vulture’s “5 Best Punctuation Marks in Literature”. My favourite is the first period in Moby Dick: “Call me Ishmael.” (Call me predictable.) What about you?