A typography series dedicated to fabulous quirky letters inspired by Keith Houston’s Shady Characters. Each month a new design celebrating a different character will appear here, on Instagram and in the studio as a calendar.
The ampersand is the logogram &, representing the conjunction and. It can be traced back to the 1st century A.D. and the Old Roman cursive, in which the letters E and T occasionally were written together to form a ligature. In the later and more flowing New Roman Cursive, ligatures of all kinds were extremely common. During later development of Latin script, the use of ligatures diminished. The et-ligature, however, continued to be used and gradually became more stylized and less revealing of its origin. The modern italic type ampersand is an et ligature that goes back to the scripts developed during the Renaissance.
The origin of the octothorpe is veiled in mystery. It is thought to boast noble Latin roots, although its use so promiscuous the meaning can change entirely upon the context, leaving its original purpose to be speculative. It was allegedly first used as the symbol we recognise today (#) in late, 14th century England as a shorthand successor to the traditional symbol for pounds (lbs). Also, it can be used as the number sign, to signify checkmate in chess, a stand-in for the musical sharp symbol and in programming languages, or indicates that the rest of the line is a comment only. Proofreaders prefer it to denote the insertion of a space: placed in the margin. It is also known as the crunch, hex, flash, grid, tic-tac-toe and most famously the hash-tag.
The manicule is a punctuation mark which is named after the Latin root manicula, meaning “little hand”. Other names for the symbol include printer’s fist, bishop’s fist, digit, mutton-fist, hand, pointer and index.
Manicules are first known to appear in the 12th century in handwritten manuscripts in Spain, and became commonin the 14th and 15th centuries in Italy. The typical use of the manicule is in the margin to mark corrections or notes. Even after the popularisation of the printing press,the handwritten version continued to be used as a meansto annotate printed documents.
The American Dictionary of Printing and Bookmaking (1894) treats it as the seventh in the standard sequence of footnote markers, following the paragraph sign (pilcrow).
The origin of one of the most graceful characters on the keyboard is a mystery. One theory is the symbol evolved from an abbreviation of “each at”—the “a” encased by an “e.” The first documented use was in 1536, in a letter by Francesco Lapi, a Florentine merchant, who used @ to denote units of wine called amphorae, shipped in large clay jars.
Called the “snail” by Italians and the “monkey tail” by the Dutch. Thanks to Ray Tomlinson the @ is at the centre of modern communication thanks to e-mail, Twitter, Slack, etc. @ has even been inducted into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, which cited its modern use as an example of “elegance, economy, intellectual transparency, and a sense of the possible future directions that are embedded in the arts of our time.”
The interrobang is a non-standard punctuation mark that combines the functions of a question mark and an exclamation point. Originally a mark for rhetorical questions, interrobang can also be used to ask an excited question and express excitement or disbelief. The name comes from the Latin interrogatio, translating roughly as question or inquiry and the English bang, a slang word for exclamation mark. Interrobang was first conceptualised in 1962 in New York by an advertising executive Martin K. Speckter in an article about his frustration with copywriters combining the exclamation and question marks to finish a rhetorical question. Unfortunately the enthusiasm for the interrobang was quite short-lived and it has largely fallen out of use by the early ’70s.