Happy Punctuation Day!

Happy National Punctuation Day! Today’s the day to pay particularly close attention to the world around you: the world full of periods, question marks, and exclamation marks; the commas, quotation marks, and apostrophes that people enjoy abusing; the dashes and hyphens that people never can tell apart.

There are also the lesser-loved punctuation marks. Semicolons and colons don’t get enough love; I agree. Neither do dashes and hyphens. Most people can tell the things apart, after all, and many of those who do aren’t bothered to spread the important difference to the masses. Believe it or not, there is a difference between the hyphen and the en dash. Different style books dictate different policies, but a good rule of thumb is that the en dash is used when there’s a closed range of values involved. Otherwise, either can be acceptable, depending on your style book.

Now let’s talk about those really obscure punctuation marks. We have the interrobang, the combined question mark and exclamation mark. It’s used in sentences that you may want to end with both marks, such as, “What do you mean, you killed my pet squid‽”

We also have the irony mark, also known as the sarcasm mark. It’s the reversed question mark. The mark hasn’t really caught on, possibly because some languages use a reverse question mark as the official question mark.

And finally, there’s my favorite, the guillemets. These marks are nothing out of the ordinary. They’re like quotation marks, but they’re little arrows. « Sushi, I thought you’d be a little more dignified in showing us off! » The catch is that they’re not used in English. I majored in French and saw these a lot in my readings. Today I learned that they’re used in lots of other languages as well. Who would have thought?

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