Ever heard of the manicule, the pilcrow or the interrobang? Well, you may not know them by name, but in the annals of typography there is a whole host of symbols that have enjoyed a varied history as marks for printing, editing and annotation. These days such esoteric characters are subsumed into the "wingding" family of fonts, others have such lasting utility that they have made it onto the keyboard; such as the octothorpe, now know as the hashtag. Keith Houston has written a brilliant and entertaining collection of these typeface standouts entitled, Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks (W.W. Norton, 2013). This resource supplies a well researched and engrossing account of how the use of punctuation has influenced different text types (e.g. novels, pamphlets, graffiti, speeches, etc.) throughout the history of the written word. Here, we'll supply a brief description of five special characters that are in use today and that would-be typographers need to take into account.
Pilcrow (¶) a.k.a. the paragraph mark, paragraph sign, (from the Latin: a linea, "off the line") is mark used for paragraph indentation, or to note a new paragraph. Derived from a C plus a vertical line looking symbol known as capitulum in Latin, the pilcrow came into regular use during the Middle Ages to designate a change of subject or a new chapter.
Interrobang (often represented as !?, or ?!) is a punctuation mark conceived in 1962 by an American ad man named Martin K. Speckter, who was searching for a symbol that would facilitate "surprised rhetorical questions." The symbol was baptized as interrobang thanks to an article written in TYPETalks magazine that solicited ideas for naming the new symbol.
The manicule (☞) was a symbol produced by the reader, not the publisher, to indicate and point at notable parts of the text. Usually seen in the form of a pointing hand in the margins of the text, the manicule (from the Latin maniculum or "little hand") has been around since ancient times, but lost favor during the advent of the printing press which pushed off the manicule with industry accepted footnoting devices such as the * and the dagger: †.
Ampersand (&) made it's first appearance during the first century AD on a Pompeian wall as a form of graffiti. It's derived from the Latin word et or "and" plus per se, meaning, "by itself." Visually the symbol is an amalgamation of the letters E and T.
The octothorpe (#) comes from an abbreviation of "lb" or "pound weight," derived from the Roman Latin term "libra pondo." Remember when phone operators used to say "press pound (#)?" Well, hurried scribes since the fourteenth century have scribbled the "lb" into the pound symbol and the rest is history that is still being written. For instance, now twitter relies heavily on the grouping function of this symbol in it's latest iteration as the "hashtag."
Some cool free fonts on our website that display creative 'wingdings' and typographic anomalies include:
Stay tuned to our BLOG to learn more about the history of typographic characters, and their origins. Contact us to learn how to become a font contributor and submit your own typeface creations !?! (yeah, really!).