A Review of Punctuation..?
I was recently delighted to receive in the mail a copy of Punctuation..?, an illustrated guide to punctuation marks, published in 2012 by UK book designer, User design. At 35 pages, it concisely treats 23 distinct punctuation marks, from the everyday comma to the more arcane interpunct (inter·punct).
If at times imperfect, its explanations are accessible and helpful. Its illustrations are offhanded and whimsical. Its examples are light-hearteded and playful, refreshingly plain in the way they are drawn from ordinary life. And its design is clean and minimal.
There are a few curiosity-tickling factoids, too, such as its historical thumbnail of the medieval, paragraph-marking pilcrow (¶) or, more unusual to American eyes, the guillemet (« »), used on the European continent (and around the world) for quotation marks and named for a 16th-century French printer.
Speaking of differences, I also enjoyed several, small “huh’s” and “oh yeah’s,” recalling that, say, the American period is the British full stop, compelling me to appreciate that subtle geography of punctuation conventions.
I may not consult Punctuation..? for my punctuation questions, and nor would I consider its treatment authoritative, but that’s besides the point.
This book is a beautiful little art object and a well-made book–and I really enjoy it for that.
And the overall effect of its design, explanations, illustrations, and examples leaves me with a feeling of punctuation as–how should I describe it–intuitive. This is in part because the text is unpretentious and unthreatening, particularly in an age where still too many tout grammar as the ability to uphold historically arbitrary rules or bemoan “the end of English” because perfectly useful concepts like YOLO are codified in dictionaries.
But it is also in part because of the clever incorporation of the punctuation marks into its illustrations, such as the way the semicolon is used to link the illustrations, rendering the content the form, as seen below:
Punctuation can be so abstract and so intimidating. So I admire how Punctuation…?, infusing the marks into its images, makes punctuation concrete, and with a quiet simplicity. Punctuation is to serve our human communication needs, after all, not the other way around.
Here at the Mashed Radish, I resonate with that concreteness. I strive for it, working to pull out of word origins those core phenomena–those essential actions and objects, the raw materials of human language–preserved in our many words. To this end, what might the origins of some of the names for our punctuation marks reveal..? We’ll have a look in upcoming posts.