The Pilcrow, part 3 of 3

Taking pride of place at the head of every new paragraph, the pilcrow had carved out a literal niche for itself at the heart of late medieval writing. Boldly inked by the rubricator, pilcrows grew ever more elaborate and time-consuming to add. Unfortunately the deadline is not a modern invention; occasionally, time would run out before the rubricator could complete his work and the white space carefully reserved for the pilcrow went undecorated. With the advent of the printing press, the volume of printed documents to be rubricated grew exponentially and it became increasingly difficult to attend to them all. The pilcrow became a ghost, and the indented paragraph was born in its stead.

Read more →

The Pilcrow, part 2 of 3

Compared to Rome’s traditional pagan religion, Christianity was altogether a different beast. Whereas paganism relied on oral tradition and its practices varied according to local custom, Christianity instead emphasised conformity and written scriptures. If Judaism had been the prototypical religion of the Book, Christianity embodied this ideal with an unprecedented vigour, possessing a symbiotic relationship with the written word which simultaneously drove the evolution of punctuation and benefited from a concrete, written dogma. After all, the Word of God had to be transmitted with as little ambiguity as possible.

Read more →

The Pilcrow, part 1 of 3

This is a pilcrow: ¶. They crop up surprisingly frequently, bookending paragraphs on websites with a typographic bent, for instance, and teaming up with the section symbol in legal documents to form picturesque reference marks such as §3, ¶7. The pilcrow even appears in Microsoft Word, where it adorns a button which reveals hidden characters such as spaces and carriage returns. (Click on that button, in fact, and a multitude of pilcrows will appear, one at the end of each line of text.)

Read more →