Rare Punctuation Marks
Before focusing on some rare punctuation marks, it is important to know that there are 14 commonly used punctuation marks in English grammar. They are the full stop, question mark, exclamation mark, comma, semicolon, colon, dash, hyphen, square brackets, brackets, curly brackets or braces, apostrophe, quotation marks, and ellipsis. However, the more interesting punctuation marks are the less commonly used ones. There are many excellent guides to punctuation marks, one of the best can be found of the Cambridge Dictionary site, I could not hope to improve on them here.
However, I would much rather obsess over some of the rare, the unusual, the wonderfully bonkers and lesser known punctuation marks. This post explores some of the historical rare punctuation marks ones including the Dagger † and Double Dagger ‡, ampersand &, Pilcrow ¶, Fleuron ❧, Manicule ☞
Rare Punctuation Marks: Dagger † and Double Dagger ‡
This is my favourite rare punctuation mark, everyone should have one… so what is yours?
The dagger † is also known as obelisk or obelus. It comes from the Ancient Greek obeliskos ‘little obelus’ from obelos meaning ‘roasting spit’, so nothing to do with daggers at all then! Oh well, never mind! It is usually used to mark a footnote, or more accurately, a second foot note on the same page as an * asterisk was typically used for the first footnote.
A double dagger ‡ or diesis generally marks a third footnote after the asterisk * and dagger †. The triple dagger [which due to its niche nature broke this web-page software completely] is a variant with three handles and is customarily used by medievalists to indicate another level of notation. No, there is no quadruple dagger and a quintuple dagger is right out! You may also see an asterisk * and the dagger † placed beside dates, this normally indicates birth and year of death respectively. Take care not to confuse the it with the Cross of Lorraine ☨ or the patriarchal cross ☦ – no idea why you should, but they are fun to add in.
The example below shows them in use to indicate three footnotes; yes, numbering them would have been more straightforward… I don’t know why they didn’t think of that either, but I suspect it had something to do with typesetting.
Rare Punctuation Marks: Ampersand &
The ampersand & represents the conjunction ‘and’, fundamentally, it is the stylised form of the Latin et translated as and. It comes in many forms, for example, ?, ?, ?, ?, ? and ? to illustrate a few. It has its origins in the 1st century A.D. when e and t were written together to form a ligature. The contemporary italic & was developed during the Renaissance. After the advent of printing in Europe in 1455, printers made extensive use of both the italic and Roman ampersands. It often appeared as a character at the end of the Latin alphabet and for a while was regarded as the 27th letter of the English one.
An excess of ampersands are shown below in “Exorcismus Contra Imminentum Tempestatem Fulgurum, et Grandinis” or the handy guide to “Exorcisms again impending storms, lightening and hail”. The last word in the left hand column is &c this is the abbreviation for etc. or et cetera which literally translates as ‘and the rest’. In contemporary English et cetera or more commonly abbreviated to etc. tends to mean ‘and other similar things’ or ‘and so forth’.
Rare Punctuation Marks: Pilcrow ¶
The pilcrow has been kept alive by Microsoft Word, you will probably have recognised from the ‘Home’ menu bar. The pilcrow is also called the paragraph mark, paragraph sign, paraph, alinea or ‘blind P’ fundamentally it shows where a new paragraph starts. Pilcrow has it origins the Ancient Greek word paragraphos, when it was a horizontal line in the margin to the left of the main text.
The pilcrow went through various evolutions, one of the more notable were enlarged letters at the beginning of a paragraph. It began life in the mediaeval period to illustrate the beginning of a new train of thought before paragraphs became a thing in themselves. An example is given in a printed text from 1724 below, where the ¶ indicates a new paragraph. Annoyingly, bizarrely with just a hint of eccentricity the publishing tool for this website has two different formats for the pilcrow one in the heading and another in text… ho humm, bet no one else has ever noticed that.
Now, back to Microsoft Word. One of their formatting options allows you to view all the normally invisible marks, such as spaces, tabs and paragraphs. For instance, instead of having a blank space preceding a new paragraph, a ¶ appears in place of paragraph breaks and dots indicate spaces etc., anyway you have the idea. This is very useful when you need to polish the formatting and generally clean up your document. That said, when your document is full of pilcrows, dots and tab marks you may find it slightly more difficult to read.
Rare Punctuation Marks: Manicule ☞
The manicule (comes from Latin manicula, meaning little hand) has many other names index, fist, printer’s fist, bishop’s fist, digit, mutton-fist, hand, hand director, pointer, and pointing hand. If that is too highbrow the BBC has a video which it calls ‘The story of the little pointing hand symbol’. Understandably, it was used to draw the readers attention to something important or interesting, as the text below illustrates: ‘☞ Denoteth something remarkable as to the use and construction of the text’.
As with most things of literary interest the manicule came to prominence in the Renaissance, however, it had its origins in the monastic scriptoria of the mediaeval period. They seem to have been first used in handwritten 12th Century manuscripts in Spain. Mancules were much more widely used 15th century Italy, at the same time they become more ornate and elaborate. With the advent of the printing press they were incorporated into typefaces. ☞ Now they are incorporated into various designs, graphics, advertising and signage. Like so many other signs and symbols they have come into their own with the rise of the emoji or down graded to the ignominy of being a novelty bullet point!
Rare Punctuation Marks: Fleuron ❦ or ❧ or ☙
❧ The fleuron ❦ or ☙ is a stylised form of a flower or leaf. The name fleuron comes from the Old French floron translated as flower. It is also known as a printers’ flower, or more formally as an aldus leaf (after Italian Renaissance printer Aldus Manutius). One other name is the hedera leaf (where hedera is the generic name for ivy), or simply hedera symbol.
It was probably originally used by Classical Greek and Latin authors to signify a break between paragraphs, however, it came into its own with the rise of printing.
The pilcrow ultimately replaced it as the paragraph break relegating the fleuron to a purely ornamental role. It was used to fill the white space that results from the indentation of the first line of a paragraph, on a line by itself to divide paragraphs in a highly stylised way, to divide lists, or for pure ornamentation.