Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks

Keith Houston. Norton, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-06442-1
For fans of Lynn Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves, this bestiary of lesser-known punctuation marks is a wonder. Blogger Houston, though a self-admitted amateur in the world of typography, speaks with all the enthusiasm of a true geek. The book is liberally sprinkled with footnotes (and a hefty 50 pages of end notes), appropriate considering that nearly every punctuation symbol in this book gained its start from the annotation marks of monks, scribes, or scholars. (The chapter on daggers and asterisks, of course, uses those symbols to mark the asides.) Some game-changers, like the sudden confines of the typing press or the yet-more-restrictive typewriter, extend their influence across numerous chapters. Each character brings its own brand of intrigue, from the closed case of why paragraphs are now indented—the blank space was left for the pilcrow, ¶, which lazy or hurried scribes left out—to the murkier question of who named the octothorpe. The # is not, as Twitter might have you believe, officially called a hashtag. True, the differences between seven kinds of dashes and hyphens are not life-and-death matters, but for anyone interested in the quirks of English punctuation without a lecture about how grammar is dead, this book satisfies that curiosity nicely. 75 illus. Agent: Laurie Abkemeier, DeFiore and Company. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/08/2013
Release date: 09/01/2013
Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-0-393-24154-9
Ebook - 192 pages - 978-1-84614-648-0
Paperback - 338 pages - 978-0-393-34972-6
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