Forgotten Punctuation and Shakespeare

Friday, January 31, 2020
by Nicole Bourque

When I was younger, the more pieces of punctuation I could add to a written work, the more I felt like some sort of literary genius. “Yeah, I’m ten and can use a comma, period, exclamation mark, and question mark within two sentences. I’m just that cool.”

Sailor Moon

All humble bragging aside, it really wasn’t until high school, when Willy Shakes stepped onto the scene and one-up me tenfold with his ridiculous language and punctuation, that I started wondering how he could get away with things like comma placements that I would lose marks for. It got me wondering, would Shakespeare be more clear if he used punctuation and grammar with just a little less glamor? (#poetandIdidntevenknowit)

The Interrobang

An admittedly odd name, the interrobang is a misunderstood old timey punctuation mark that originated in the 1960’s. It was created as a way to insinuate an excited yet still quizzical exclamation. Martin Speckter, an advertising specialist wanted a way to do just that, so he created this "" the interrobang, which he would use in his advertisements to convey that mental response of rhetorically exciting questions. Nowadays very few fonts even support the use of the interrobang (I found mine using Wingdings 2), and not many people use it in writing anymore, even though you still can. Though if you do use it, I can't guarantee your reader will understand what it means. 

At this point, I think I need to inform the publishers of Shakespeare’s works that they are seriously missing a huge punctuation market! “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo[]” See how much better that sounds in your head already? This punctuation mark is the perfect balance of excitement and wonder, and yet has been lost in the great abyss that is forgotten punctuation! And yes, I hear you, “Nicole, how could Shakespeare have used punctuation that didn’t exist yet?”, to which I would respond, “He has modern, twenty first century editors!"

Woman yelling at cat meme stating: Me wanting the interrobang and irony mark in twenty first century Shakespeare editions. Modern Shakespeare editors

The Irony Mark

Irony mark
Moving backwards in time to when Willy Shakes would have had this at his fingertips, have you ever heard of the irony mark It has had many pseudonyms, and undergone multiple design changes throughout the centuries, but it seems that it was created sometime during the 15th century and has been used as recently as 2007. The irony mark looks similar to a backwards question mark “⸮” and functions as a way to insinuate irony or sarcasm.If only the editors of Shakespeare’s work had implemented these marks into his plays, high school English would have been a breeze. Where was the irony mark in SparkNotes No Fear Shakespeare when you needed it? Aside from Shakespeare, can you imagine how easy reading text messages would be if this mark was still used today?

Fake text conversation between two people outlining how useful the irony mark would be to demonstrate a sarcastic remark so that people can avoid miscommunication

There are so many more lost pieces of punctuation out there in the English language, but these two are probably the saddest exclusion from our lexicon that I can think of. What are your thoughts? Did I miss your favourite? Let me know on Twitter @UWaterlooWCC!

Until then, stay inquisitive and remember to #writelikeawarrior!