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Standing on Points: A Cultural History of Punctuation

Standing on Points: A Cultural History of Punctuation

By Florence Hazrat
What this podcast is *not*: a rule guide on proper punctuation. We'll only conjure the ghost of grammar in order to put it to rest. What this podcast *is*: a journey through the weird behaviour of punctuation in the wild. Be prepared to amble on the placid path of the comma, get lost on the winding road of brackets, and arrive at the well-deserved rest of the full stop. Along the way, we'll explore the past & future of punctuation, why a comma sparked the Russian Revolution, how to earn millions with a semicolon, and what your favourite mark says about you. Mind your dots & dashes!
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How to Write Seduction: A Few More Glyphs
The handful of signs at our disposal nowadays (! or ? or ; or *), they need to do an enormous amount of work in terms of clarifying sentence structure and transmitting appropriate emotional intentions of the writer. What if we had more marks at hand to help us communicate more precisely quite what we mean in text that hides our faces, gestures, and tones of voice? What if we were able to encode sometimes abstract, sometimes sensuous emotions and cognitive states like yearning, pessimism, tolerance, solidarity, and outrage? Would you like to flag up your textual boredom?  Join me in a lively conversation with typographer Walter Bohatsch on "Typojis", a set of new punctuation marks doing just that: challenging us to think again, and feel differently, with and about text. For Typojis and the book, click here: Dedicated symbols for the semantic qualities that characterize our communication | Typojis
February 12, 2022
All you Need is Love (and a few other Emotions): New Punctuation for Children's Stories
What big teeth you have, grandma! Mirror, mirror, on the wall... Fairy tales are replete with great emotions, pleasant and not so much. Anger, joy, disgust, surprise, fear, love -- what if there were signs encoding all of them at eyesight? Designer and typographer Thierry Fétiveau has developed eleven new punctuation marks for children's stories doing just that. His work invites us to a radical new engagement with reading and experiencing words, and testifies to punctuation's relevance today. In the age of the emoji, do we still need punctuation? We do.  Find out why by joining our conversation about design development, progressive punctuation, and the courage (and joy) to read feelingly.  For Thierry's work and punctuation marks click here: Thierry Fétiveau, design graphique et typographie - Andersen (
January 08, 2022
Holy Punctuation: A Conversation
Nothing less than the salvation of your soul -- when it's about understanding the meaning of God's words, it's crucial to get it right. That's why all three "religions of the book", Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, have developed systems of punctuation in order to fix meaning and guide reading of their holy texts. In this episode, I talk to Professor Abla Hasan from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln about punctuation in the Koran, and about her wider work on language and gender relationships in Islam. Join us as we discuss the birth and transmission of the Koran, how navigating its verses is like riding a car in a busy city, and why it's not actually Eve's fault we were banished from Paradise!
July 29, 2021
Any Questions?
What's the right size of a dog? Do you look forward to being a pensioner? Are you using a basket for picknicking? What did you do at bandcamp? Do you mind my asking so many questions?  If you're looking for answers, stop listening. If you are curious about the origin of questions and the questionmark, tune in. In this episode, I'm exploring the history of the sign, how it entered writing in the Middle Ages, and what it's doing in literature, and I'm also thinking about "uptalk" - I mean uptalk? 
July 20, 2021
An Admirable Point: The Screamer, the Slammer, the Dog’s Dick, the Exclamation Mark
Yo!!! Join me on a journey from medieval manuscripts to text messages, comics, music, linguistics, and chess, and discover the where and why of the !!!!! Also, what's the town with the most ! in its name? Listen in and find out. Or rather 'out!'.
March 17, 2021
Saving the World One Comma at a Time: A Conversation
How would you explain memes to Shakespeare? Can you be funny with climate change? And why is death too awful to gets its own line in a poem? Join me in a conversation with poet Nadia Lines about writing, the pandemic, ecology, old poets, young poets, and of course punctuation. Find her poems here:  You can follow her on Twitter here:  @NadiallLines
March 06, 2021
Beside the Point: Fate and Future of the Paragraph
Digitization has rung the death knoll to many a punctuation mark, and other features of navigating the text like paragraphs and indentation. Or has it? Surprisingly, the simple act of dividing a text through blank lines into paragraphs has not always been practised, and so, its status is not at all a given in the future's exponentially growing online communication. In this episode, we think about what paragraphs and indentations are, why we have them, and why it might be smart to hang onto them just a little longer. Listen in for the history of blanks, and some nerdy typography digressions to boot!
February 04, 2021
This. And Elsewhere: The History of the Index
What do fingers and books have in common? They point. To this. To elsewhere. An index helps with that, that of the hand, and that in a book. But how did books actually come to have them? And what are they useful for? This episode traces the development of indexes (or indices!), that under-estimated text navigation technology that's still with us today in for of Google searches. 
October 28, 2020
Against Rules
Of the impossibility of imposing rules on an unruly system.  Are you a stickler when it comes to grammar or punctuation? Then don't listen to this one.  Some thoughts in defence of an expansive sense of language (read, in defence of mistakes and ambiguity).
October 04, 2020
Part 2 of Part 2 of the History of Punctuation
I continue the long second part of the history of punctuation, exploring mini-biographies of the parenthesis, ellipses (DOT DOT DOT), and quotation marks. From the Renaissance, I also rush through to the present day, touching on digital punctuation. But that's for another episode!
August 31, 2020
Part 1 of Part 2 of the History of Punctuation: Late Medieval to Early Modern
Apostrophe, semi-colon, comma, parentheses, ellipses, quotation marks -- six marks and counting within 200 years. How come there is an explosion of punctuation marks in between 1400 and 1600? What were the intellectual and technological factors accounting for such a boom?  This is part 1 of part 2 of the history of punctuation -- I realized part is a long history, so there are two parts of part 2!
August 31, 2020
Nothing is but what is not: Punctuation which isn't.
What do you think about first when you hear 'punctuation'? Dots, dashes, question marks, right? But what is the most important punctuation was no punctuation at all...? In this episode, I explore...nothing. In praise of emptiness!
August 19, 2020
Not Lost in Translation: By any other Name
How did punctuation marks get their names? Are they called the same in different languages? And what can the names of marks tell us about our attitudes to language, and our cultural identities? Have a listen if you want to know what the comma has to do with penises, erect and otherwise. Yes, this is what she said.
August 11, 2020
The Shape of Them
Why do we use dots, why does he exclamation mark look like it does, and what do emoji have to do with it? In this episode, I share some thoughts on the shape of punctuation marks, how they came to look like the way they do, and why that's efficient.
August 06, 2020
Mind the Gap: The History of Punctuation Part 1
In the beginning there was the word, ANDTHEWORDWASWRITTENLIKETHAT -- and nobody was able to read at first sight! In this episode, we explore why the Greeks and Romans were bad at punctuation, and how bunch of monks from Ireland invented the single most useful element of punctuation: white space.
July 31, 2020
What is punctuation & why should we care about it?
Is an emoji a mark of punctuation? What's the use of exclamation marks? And can punctuation save lives? This launch episode explores what punctuation is (and isn't!), and why we should slow down and pay attention to it. Mind your dots and dashes!
July 28, 2020
July 28, 2020