Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks by Keith Houston

Simply fantastic. Houston writes incredibly well and has done his research, teasing out the true history of a dozen different typographical marks out of a mess of false leads and myths.

Three of the many things I learned:

  • Punctuation was invented by the Greeks as guide for how a text should be read aloud. Before that, they wrote everything as a single stream of capital letters.
  • The asterisk and dagger marks got their start as part of literary criticism: either marking out questionable text or calling attention to something interesting in it
  • The original typewriter keyboard did not have an exclamation point. You had to construct it manually using a period and an apostrophe.