At the heart of Shady Characters’ recent redesign are the text and display typefaces of Satyr and Faunus, both designed by Sindre Bremnes of Norway’s Monokrom type studio. Shady Characters, of course, is all about unusual marks of punctuation, and I was glad to see that both typefaces came complete with a handy selection of special characters. Even so, there were a few marks missing: the interrobang for one; the numero symbol I use in many post titles for another. As I chatted to Frode Helland of Monokrom about the minutiae of web fonts, though, he suggested that he and Sindre might be able to add some new characters to help Shady Characters live up to its name.
At the Royal Observatory of Edinburgh on the city’s Blackford Hill, in the depths of its oldest building, is a locked, climate-controlled room. That room is a library, and it houses the world’s most important collection of antiquarian books on astronomy.
Time for one last grab-bag of punctuation goodies before Christmas and New Year. First comes a story courtesy of the American TV quiz show Jeopardy (yes, I’m as surprised as you are). The basic idea behind Jeopardy, for the uninitiated (as I was, until my wife made me watch Saturday Night Live’s “Celebrity Jeopardy” sketches), is that contestants are given the answer to a question and must tell the host, Alex Trebek, the corresponding question.
Shady Characters readers will, of course, be familiar with the interrobang (‽), that most Madison Avenue of punctuation marks. Its name, like its shape, is equal parts question and exclamation: the Latin interrogatio, for a rhetorical question,1 combines with ‘bang’, a slang term for the exclamation mark. Until I started researching the history of the interrobang I had never come across this use of the word ‘bang’, but a quick check of the Typographic Desk Reference soon dispelled my ignorance: the TDR also lists ‘exclamation point’, ‘screamer’ and the rather risqué ‘dog’s cock’ as alternatives.2
In contrast to some of the other symbols explored here, the ampersand seems at first sight to be entirely unexceptional. Another of those things the Romans did for us, the symbol started life as the Latin word et, for ‘and’, and its meaning has stayed true to its origins since then. Even the word ‘ampersand’ itself manages to quietly hint at the character’s meaning, unlike, say, the conspicuously opaque naming of the pilcrow or octothorpe. Dependable and ubiquitous, the ampersand is a steady character among a gallery of flamboyant rogues.