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Shady Characters : The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, & Other Typographical Marks
by Keith Houston


Overview -

Whether investigating the asterisk (*) and dagger (+)--which alternately illuminated and skewered heretical verses of the early Bible--or the at sign (@), which languished in obscurity for centuries until rescued by the Internet, Keith Houston draws on myriad sources to chart the life and times of these enigmatic squiggles, both exotic () and everyday (&).  Read more...


 
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More About Shady Characters by Keith Houston
 
 
 
Overview

Whether investigating the asterisk (*) and dagger (+)--which alternately illuminated and skewered heretical verses of the early Bible--or the at sign (@), which languished in obscurity for centuries until rescued by the Internet, Keith Houston draws on myriad sources to chart the life and times of these enigmatic squiggles, both exotic () and everyday (&).

From the Library of Alexandria to the halls of Bell Labs, figures as diverse as Charlemagne, Vladimir Nabokov, and George W. Bush cross paths with marks as obscure as the interrobang (?) and as divisive as the dash (--). Ancient Roman graffiti, Venetian trading shorthand, Cold War double agents, and Madison Avenue round out an ever more diverse set of episodes, characters, and artifacts.

Richly illustrated, ranging across time, typographies, and countries, Shady Characters will delight and entertain all who cherish the unpredictable and surprising in the writing life.


 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780393064421
  • ISBN-10: 0393064425
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • Publish Date: September 2013
  • Page Count: 340
  • Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.7 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.15 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Language Arts & Disciplines > Alphabets & Writing Systems

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2013-07-08
  • Reviewer: Staff

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.)

 
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