We use most of them every day, but where do our punctuation marks come from? Here is a brief history of the main marks. The rules of each punctuation mark has remained unchanged.
Apostrophe – introduced into English in the 1500s after copying French practice. In France, Geoffroy Tory used the apostrophe for the first time in 1529. After 486 years, it remains one of the more difficult and often misused punctuation marks.
Colon – originates from about 1600. John Mason in a 1748 essay proclaimed “A comma stops the voice while we may privately tell one, a semi-colon two; a colon three: and a full stop four.”
Comma – a descendent of the forward slash (/). The origins of the comma can be traced right back to the third century BC. Today’s version of the comma was first used by Italian humanist, publisher and printer Aldus Manutius (1449-1515).
Semi-colon – dates back to 1494 and Manutius. Ben Jonson was the first English writer to use the semi-colon as it is used today. 521 years later, some still struggle with this one.
Question mark – Latin scholars would place ‘questio’ at the end of a sentence that required thought from the reader. As putting ‘questio’ at the end of sentences used up space, over time it was shortened to ‘qu’. Later, a symbol was used to mark a question: a lowercase ‘q’ on top of an ‘o’. Over time, the symbol has changed to what we know it as today.
Exclamation mark – has a backstory very similar to the question mark. A lowercase ‘l’ above an ‘o’ was the first symbol because ‘io’ is Latin for ‘exclamation of joy’. Similarly, it has changed to what we know it as today.
Ampersand (&) – goes back to the first century AD and was taught to children as the 27th letter of the alphabet in the 1800s.
Octothorpe (#) – another name for the hashtag and dates back to the 1300s. Who would have thought it would take 700 years for Twitter to give the octothorpe such a fantastic Renaissance?