The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marksby Keith Houston
A charming and indispensable tour of two thousand years of the written word, Shady Characters weaves a fascinating trail across the parallel histories of language and typography.
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.
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"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." - Publishers Weekly
"This book will reward the reader who is less interested in finding the answers to specific questions than in learning about the topic in general." - Library Journal
"A mostly amusing, informative history of punctuation...An unusual triumph of the human ability to find exaltation in the mundane." - Kirkus
"Shady Characters is an authoritative, witty, and fascinating tour of the history and rationale behind such lesser known marks as the ampersand, manicule, the pilcrow, and the interrobang. Keith Houston also explains the octothorpe - otherwise known as the hashtag - and and my final comment on his book is #awesome." - Ben Yagoda, author of How to Not Write Bad
"Make no mistake: this is a book of secrets. With zeal and rigor, Keith Houston cracks open the &, the #, the and moreall the little matryoshka dolls of meaning that make writing work." - Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
"I'm a sucker for this stuff. The @ is called chiocciola (snail) in Italian! The & was once taught as a letter of the alphabet! The manicule has been with us for a millennium! Thank you, Keith Houston, for bringing these little mysteries out of the shadows of typographic history." - Constance Hale, author of Vex, Hex, Smash and Smooch and Sin and Syntax
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Keith Houston is the creator of the Shady Characters blog. He and his wife live in Edinburgh, Scotland.
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