Obscure Punctuation #7

International Ambiguity Mark

I want to start by first stating just how excited I was when I found out that the idea to use an ambiguity mark had even been proposed. Not necessarily because a mark like this should even have to be used in a written language, but more for the fact that it simply exists— even if it is just on somebody else’s blog. Fellow blogger Kevin Larson, presented this punctuation mark and mentioned that he laid eyes on this typographical mark in a book written by G.G. Neill Wright called The Writing of Arabic Numerals. He then goes on to say, “It was written by the Papal Chancery hand of 15th century and may plausibly be interpreted as 0, 3, 6, 7, or 8”.

Larson did not really expand on whether or not the mark was actually used for its ambiguity, but I think he meant to imply that he would like to propose it be used that way. Under what circumstances would this ever be used!? This mark would only cause confusion. However, if your goal is to confuse your audience, then it would be a very entertaining punctuation mark indeed. Moreover, using an ambiguity mark in context would be a lot of fun in a work of fiction in order to compound the irony of a purposefully over-the-top, flat, or clichéd character. Adding a mark would just further emphasize just how distracting and counterproductive the existence of this character is and subsequently whatever this character stands to represent.

As for a serious application for this, there is none. But I certainly don’t think that should completely discredit this punctuation mark since it is, at the very least, creative and humorous and would require the talents of a skilled writer to work this successfully into piece of fiction.

— Deirdre McCormick, Poetry Editor

Editor’s Note: Deirdre McCormick is a third year Biology Major with a minor in Creative Writing.  She is deeply passionate for both topics and that is evident in much of her writing endeavors.  She was also recently published in Lewis University’s own Windows magazine.

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Obscure Punctuation #6

http://commons.wikimedia.org

On the Currency Sign

This sign is a strange mark that is used to denote currency when a currency sign is not available. It was created, allegedly in 1972, but the only source I could find that had much information on this ambiguous mark was Wikipedia, so I had some trouble verifying this date. I was able to find other evidence that this sign does exist and that it has been used before, however, it is avoided with good reason. Some part of me wants to think that this sign was created by a few programmers with a twisted sense of humor given that this sign is really only useful in taking things out of context. If Tobias said to you that he had 100 in an email and didn’t specify between euro, pound, yen, peso or American dollar you would have almost no context for the true sum of money that he is dealing with here.

Appropriately enough, Microsoft uses the currency sign for its Xbox 360 currency system, which is a confusing mess that intends for users to buy generocurrency Microsoft points and then use those points to purchase software items. Seems quite a bit too meta for my taste, in fact this point system kept me away from dealing with the online Microsoft realm. Still it was an entertainingly simple application for this sign.

— Deirdre McCormick, Poetry Editor

Editor’s Note: Deirdre McCormick is a third year Biology Major with a minor in Creative Writing.  She is deeply passionate for both topics and that is evident in much of her writing endeavors.  She was also recently published in Lewis University’s own Windows magazine.

Obscure Punctuation #5

http://blog.trufcreative.com

The Tilde

The tilde is a sign that many of us know to mean “about” or “approximately”. Being that I am a slave to a relatively approximate science, this sign proves itself useful on a daily basis. I know that there are a lot of biologists that might slap me for saying that, so let me clarify. The tilde is an approximate when concerning variable traits like height, width, color, pigmentation— general morphological examples. For instance, I might describe the E. coli growth on a plate as follows: “the growth on the plate was a sleek chartreuse sheen.” Although that is oddly specific, it is still only an approximation. My lab partner would simply say “metallic green.” Regardless, both describe in relative terms, a shade of green, i.e. ~green.

The tilde is rich with history and has had a variety of uses throughout all written languages. However, I only plan on hitting on a few of its uses in this post. The name tilde comes from Latin for “title” or “superscription”. Technically, it’s not all that obscure, but it is not used regularly in the modern English vernacular other than as a symbol to represent an approximation. Its other uses primarily consist of using it as an indicator for a change in the way a word is pronounce or a letter is spoken in the context of a word. In Ancient Greek it was used to indicate a change in pitch in a word, in Portuguese it is used to indicate the nasalization of the base vowel in a word, in Vietnamese it used over a vowel to represent a drop in tone. The list goes on.

I think it’s evident that the tilde, outside of English, is used primarily as a punctuation mark that indicates a change in how a word is spoken. This makes its uses outside of what we know it for relatively useless being that English is not a heavily flexion, tone or pitch based language (not unless you’re in an argument). This is an interesting an concept since I have had people who speak another first language mention to me how strange or boring it is that English is such a “flat” language. When I asked them to clarify it was explained to me that almost nothing in our language is interpreted to mean a separate word in English simply through tonal or inflexion based changes. At first I was insulted and I then realized that this flatness is what makes English so accessible for things like sarcasm and was no longer at odds with having my apparently small and emotionless language insulted.

— Deirdre McCormick, Poetry Editor

Editor’s Note: Deirdre McCormick is a third year Biology Major with a minor in Creative Writing.  She is deeply passionate for both topics and that is evident in much of her writing endeavors.  She was also recently published in Lewis University’s own Windows magazine.

Obscure Punctuation: #4

http://dominicbellavance.com

Guillemets

Guillemets are the primary form of quotation marks in non-English languages. They look like the fast forward >> and rewind << signs on DVD players and VCRs. I love guillemets and I remember the bewilderment I felt the the first time I saw a set of them on the page of a German novel in a local junk store in Leimen, Germany, when I was eleven years old.

After that I was puzzled as to why a language would chose to use something so distracting as a form of punctuation, but never seemed to find my answer. In my youth I primarily used computers for video games and word processing (DOS ftw!), so I wasn’t an aggressive enough internet surfer to find the answer to my question. In fact I only recently got my answer.

I found that guillemets actually originated as a creation from a French printer named Guillaume Le Be. Guillemet is the diminutive form of Guillaume, which is French for William, making the direct translation for guillemet: little William. This seems a tad too cutesy for my taste, being that I am a fan of functional nomenclature and etymology rather than naming things after the maker. But guillemet is still fun to say.

One thing I learned was that guillemets are not always used in a fashion where they point outwards, they can also point inwards, (>>like this<< instead of <<this way>>), which is actually how I first encountered them in German. When I researched why that might have been done, I found a comical rationale: a German print maker reversed them simply out of his distaste for the French and their conventions.

— Deirdre McCormick, Poetry Editor

Editor’s Note: Deirdre McCormick is a third year Biology Major with a minor in Creative Writing.  She is deeply passionate for both topics and that is evident in much of her writing endeavors.  She was also recently published in Lewis University’s own Windows magazine.

Obscure Punctuation #3

http://holykaw.alltop.com

The Hedera

Hederas are an interesting sort of obscure punctuation and despite their lack of formal use, they are worth mentioning. Unlike much of the punctuation I have mentioned thus far, the formal use of the hedera is not well-documented, the creator is not recognized, and the date it was first instated is not either. This lack of stringent documentation is most likely due to the fact that it was primarily used as a page decoration and may have gained functionality as a punctuation mark later. Its name even denotes its aesthetic dominating over its functionality as a formal punctuation mark, meaning “ivy” in Latin.

The hedera has been used to denote a page break in much the same way that the triple asterisk or a large white space has. In fact it wouldn’t shock me to find that the ivy decoration was adapted to a smaller, simplified form to denote page break or scene change simply because there was originally white space and the typographers thought that it would match the aesthetic of the other page decorations to include the hedera.

The reason this is worth mentioning is that the hedera — and hedera derivatives — was so commonly used in older documents and to match with other decorations on the page that it became a noteworthy page break punctuation. Nowadays, hederas are no longer particularly common. We have other numerous ways of indicating page or scene breaks that can be matched with the book or the text thematically, as opposed to simply being chosen for aesthetic purposes.

— Deirdre McCormick, Poetry Editor

Editor’s Note: Deirdre McCormick is a third year Biology Major with a minor in Creative Writing.  She is deeply passionate for both topics and that is evident in much of her writing endeavors.  She was also recently published in Lewis University’s own Windows magazine.

Obscure Punctuation #2

http://unfutz.blogspot.com

The Interrobang

Last week’s blog was a tad long, so I’ll be keeping it a bit shorter today. The Interrobang is my subject for the week and, aside from sounding like something loud and possibly dirty, this punctuation mark is used for something quite different. It is the combination of an exclamation point and a question mark: ! + ? = ‽

As the equation alludes to, this mark’s use is fairly self-evident in that it can be used to replace “!?” or “?!” or “!?!?!?”. The interrobang can also be used to simply denote the presence of a rhetorical question that is not so much a loud question as it is a rhetorical expression of shock.

Francis did what?!” This person obviously heard what Francis did and processed the information being presented, but still exclaimed a rhetorical question to highlight her outrage, shock and/or disbelief to the aforementioned situation.

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Obscure Punctuation #1

http://teachingcollege english.com

On the Snark

I think that it is only fitting to start this blog off with the punctuation mark that compelled me to start the blog: the snark or snark mark. This is a form of punctuation used to denote the irony or sarcasm within a sentence. It was first proposed by French poet Alcanter de Brahm in the 19th century. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have caught on, being that many writers would argue that if the irony or sarcasm in a sentence cannot be detected, then adding a mark isn’t going to make the situation any better. Furthermore, it’s seen as an insult to the reader: “Just in case you didn’t get it the first time, I’m going to make as obvious as possible.” The point of sarcasm is to send a cold stab at someone or something. It’s the brain child of a quick wit and some malice, to add a mark to denote its existence takes away from its subversive form. Similarly, if the snark is used to denote irony, again, it takes away from the power in making something ironic.

However, the snark is something that I think should sneak its way into the ever-changing and evolving set of English colloquialisms. The only reason I argue this is because it seems that, often times in the cyber world, there are amateurs who do not grasp sarcasm and require the use of snark, which will in turn result in being trolled as viciously as they would with or without the presence of snark. But in the presence of snark, they will probably learn a lesson on how sarcasm or irony work in the written world. . . or at least they will be compelled to educate themselves to avoid further trolling. A snark might also be very useful in the context of forming new relationships with people: dating, making friends and — in some rare instances — speaking with employees and bosses.

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