Shady Characters

Shady Characters

The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, & Other Typographical Marks

Book - 2013
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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.

Publisher: New York : W.W. Norton & Company, ©2013.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780393064421
Characteristics: xi, 340 pages :,illustrations ;,22 cm


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LPL_EliH Jul 31, 2018

As long as you don't mind an uncompromisingly nerdy subject matter, Shady Characters will satisfy every curiosity you could possibly have about punctuation and other typographical marks. The writing is light and engaging, making the nuances and history of #'s and *'s a joy to follow; your useless party knowledge will double effortlessly. This is a gem of a book about a pretty unique topic, don't @ me.

Dec 03, 2014

Totally awesome #mostinterestingbook LOL This book is a collection of "serious" scholarship" about punctuation and symbols used in print. Even the footnotes are entertaining. The author has a lovely sense of humour, and a clever ability to tell stories about them all - stories ranging all over the map and time. If you love trivia - read it.

Jan 27, 2014

Intriguing work about some of the most surprising things: punctuation symbology.

Aug 22, 2013

Charming and full of the most interesting stories, not just about punctuation, but about ARPANET, and the Romans, and the library of Alexandra, and the invention of printing, and the revolution of typewriters... leave by your bedside and dip in and out. Completely enjoyable.


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quagga Dec 27, 2014

"Then came the Internet, plucking many a shady character from obscurity and thrusting them back into the light. The quotidian @ symbol became indispensable; the octothorpe was recast as the dashing hashtag, and the interrobang gained a new generation of admirers. The mythical ironics had their long-awaited debut, and the irony mark was revived too, though their new lease on life came with a caveat. The subtle shadings of verbal irony were bleached flat in the blinding glare of the new medium: what the Internet really wanted to communicate was not irony, but its laser-guided offspring, sarcasm."

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