The Fascinating History Of Quotation Marks

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The punctuation mark is a storied character. Its family tree extends all the way back to the second century BC, when its earliest ancestor sprang into being at the ancient Library of Alexandria. The so-called diple, or “double,” was an arrow-shaped character (>) named for the two strokes of the pen required to draw it, and it was just one of a clutch of proofreading marks devised by a librarian named Aristarchus to help edit and clarify the library’s holdings.

More about this in Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks.

Writing and punctuation were fundamentally and permanently changed by the invention of movable type. Time-consuming luxuries such as hand-painted illustrations and elaborate, decorative marks of punctuation fell victim to the economies of scale enabled by this new means of production.

Quotations were rendered in alternative typefaces, enclosed in parentheses, or called out by means of non-typographic methods such as verbs of speaking.

Of late, Britain’s contrarian speech marks seem to be reverting to the once and future norm, and perhaps its ‘technical’ terms will one day do the same. Until that day arrives, take heart that whether you prefer single or double quotation marks, someone, somewhere, will be in agreement with you. The quotation mark, in both its guises, is still in rude health.

Source: Quotation marks: Long and fascinating history includes arrows, diples, and inverted commas


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