Semicolon. Colon. Dash. Period. Question mark. Those are the common ones, right? They’re the ones tech companies put on our QWERTY keyboards because everyone uses them. But did you know that everything has a name? Like ꞏ, *, and § ? I wasn’t sure how to section off that last bit with all the punctuation!
Below is a list of punctuation I never knew had actual names. A couple of them are common, but they didn’t always function the way they do now. Let’s begin!
These days you see a lot of folks using interpuncts to separate single words or short statements on social media accounts. What’s its actual purpose? Aside from the fact that it has several other names like interpoint, middot and centered dot, it’s used as a decimal point is in math. Example, in British currency, £30ꞏ50. Perhaps to differentiate it from an actual period? It’s also used to help phonetically separate words into their syllables. I.e. – ex·am·pled. Phonetics is a whole other discussion for another day!
We’ve all heard of an asterisk. Did you know there’s also the “asterism?” (I really, truly hope that I’m using punctuation correctly in this blog post!)
The most common use of the asterism is between paragraphs in a book, indicating that a certain amount of time has passed. Many designers or self publishing authors design their own versions of the asterism to fit with other elements in their book.
One of my earliest schooling memories is having way too much fun writing this symbol all over my homework. Yes, I’m that kid. It’s most commonly referred to as the “paragraph mark,” and is sometimes called the “section sign” and is written like this: §.
Long paragraphs are one of my writing quirks. I love a good paragraph. I suppose I get that from loving works like The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables and The Little Princess. The pilcrow mark is always, always in my mind during writing sessions!
< and > are the more common forms of the guillemet, especially if you’re used to seeing CSS coding for HTML formatting. Did I just speak another language there? Perhaps, and it’s a great lead in to what it actually means – when you see the double guillemet, it sometimes means that they’re used to indicate language translation.
Finally, there’s an interesting bit of history here with the obelus. Commonly referred to as the division sign in mathematics, editors in ancient times used to mark passages of suspicious nature in ancient manuscripts with it. You mean, it was once an editing tool? You betcha!
There you have it! The interpunct, the asterism, the pilcrow, the guillemet and the obelus. Five punctuations I didn’t know had actual names. Their uses will change again in time, but for now, I’ll go use some pilcrows!