October 8, 2015 ianblyth

5 Forgotten Punctuation Marks We Need to Bring Back

This past Thursday, September 24, was National Punctuation Day – a day set aside solely to celebrate the dots, dashes, and points that hold our sentences together.

If you’re anything like me, you celebrated by not noticing at all because it’s not a holiday you get off work for and you only find out about it once it appears on Reddit, Mentalfloss, Mashable, or any of the dozens of content sites that were desperately trying to fill the content void that day.

Still, it’s worth noting the punctuation that has passed its prime and how some of them are still pretty cool. Here are some examples.

The Interrobang

Also known as the “bang” to printers and programmers, the interrobang is a combination of the question mark and exclamation point created by American Martin K. Speckter in 1936.

As can be inferred, the interrobang is meant to mix the quizzical nature of a question mark with the emphasis produced by the exclamation point. It’s custom-made for sentences that attempt to convey the mouth agape, eyes-wide-open feeling you have when you see something both alarming and strange. The interrobang is used to appropriately communicate a situation that is all at once so unbelievably alarming and unnervingly inconceivable that it is, in and of itself, a quandary.

In short, it’s the WTF of punctuation marks.

The now-old punctuation mark was once quite popular, appearing on typewriters in the 60’s and also landing in Merriam-Webster’s version of the dictionary. Fun note: If you check the dictionary, you’ll find the only word that rhymes with interrobang is “orangutan.” Fun.

Usage example: “Land Ho‽” — My approximation of David Barry’s take on the captain of the Titanic’s first words after striking an iceberg.

Better example: “Say What‽”

The Irony Mark

The Wikipedia definition of this punctuation mark refers to it being the diacritical  score that indicates the  sentence should be understood at a “second level.”

One of the greatest episodes of the Twilight Zone — Time Enough At Last —  involves Burgess Meredith playing Henry Bemis, a bookish old man with huge, thick glasses who only wants to spend his time reading but is hounded constantly by his wife, his boss, and everyone else to put the books down.

He finally gets his wish in a terrible way as the he becomes sole survivor of worldwide meltdown by napping on his lunch break in a vault at the bank where he worked. Despite being the last person on the earth, he’s elated because there’s no one around. He stands on the steps of a library surrounded by stacks of books, enough to keep him busy for the rest of his life. Irony is painted on thick though when Bemis bends over too quickly and his glasses slip from his face and crack on the pavement below, leaving him virtually blind.

He finally had everything he wanted, nothing was in his way, the source of his greatest enjoyment was literally within reach, and he’d gone through catastrophe to get there. Still, his own simple actions led to him not being able to experience the joy he sought to much ever. That’s irony.

Usage example: “Wait — someone actually pulled over the highway patrolman for speeding⸮”

Better example: “Time flies like an arrow — Fruit flies like a banana⸮”

The Exclamation Comma

Created in 1992 by three Americans and patented in Canada — this is a real thing — the exclamation comma is an obvious mash-up of the exclamation mark and a comma.

The punctuation is meant to appear not at the end of the sentence as the exclamation mark usually does, but close to the emphatic phrase, as to provide a punch to one portion of the sentence.

The exclamation comma works a lot like a a comma or even em-dash, both of which improve readability by separating ideas but more importantly alert the reader to a pause. The exclamation comma is a similar reading cue to emphasize one part of the sentence way more than the rest. Plus it looks cool.

Here’s the actual patent for the exclamation comma, by the way. An important note: the exclamation comma never really caught on at all — it actually faded from view in 1995 — so it’s tough to actually find in a font set. Below, I’ve substituted the normal exclamation point for the place I think the exclamation comma would go.

Usage example: “My surprise turned into a blood curdling scream! as the Rabbit of Caerbannog lunged for Sir Galahad.”

Better example: “The editors eyes widened in horror! as she discovered the customer-facing email was sent using Comic Sans.”

The Snark

Created in 2007 by American typographer Choz Cunningham, the Snark doesn’t necessarily have to come back as much as it needs to pick up some steam and get off the ground.

Very similar to the Irony Mark, the Snark is intended to end a thought and provide a little extra emphasis on the sentence’s meaning. Only this time, the meaning is supposed to poke fun at the situation or event, not just put out the irony in it. The evidence of a Snark can usually point out the author’s complete opposite meaning of a sentence without actually having any indication. Here’s an example:

The wooden bat connected fully with the baseball and sent it sailing out into the outfield. The centerfielder backpedaled wildly but confidently as he focused on keeping the ball in sight. As he crossed the warning track he leapt and stretched his arm as far as he could, positive the next sound he would hear would be the satisfying sound of the baseball smacking into his leather glove.

Instead, the outfielder misjudged the situation so badly that he slammed into the wall with a terrible, violent thud and the ball cleared the wall easily for a game-winning home run.

“Real nice attempt there buddy.~” One fan called down to the mortified baseball player.

The Asterism

The asterism is a grouping of three asterisks organized in a triangle pattern that is used to break up portions of text within a chapter.

The special character calls attention to specific passages or breaks up sub-sections of chapters.

It’s a cool way to break up large chunks of text in a chapter and an effective way to switch between characters or split between the action as it ramps up.  This really cool symbol was replaced by three asterisks in a row, a punctuation mark with the unfortunate name “dinkus,”which proves its predecessor was far better if only in name.