A recent buzzfeed.com link on Obscure Punctuation Marks got a lot of play. A  bunch of people sent it to me! I was delighted to see a very "legalese" mark in there, peculiar to the profession of law--punctuation isn't just for grammar geeks, after all.


Legal thrillers, as opposed to courtroom dramas, may have seemed like an oxymoron (legal work? thrilling?) before John Grisham burst on the scene with his second book, The Firm, in 1991. His most recent, The Litigators,  promises more of the same compelling narrative and intricate plots that have made his titles compulsive page turners for years.

Law holds fascination for grammar geeks and word nerds, of course--so much Latin terminology is preserved in the American legal lexicon, and so many arcane constructions. But this week, we're going to look at some punctuation that got a surprising shout-out on a popular social media site.


Buzzfeed.com's post on Obscure Punctuation Marks included fourteen: the Dagger (or obelisk), Caret, Solidus (what, no Virgule?!), Asterism, Guillemets, Sheffer Stroke, Because Sign, Section Sign, Exclamation Comma, Question Comma, Interrobang, Hedera, Pilcrow, and Snark (percontation point).


I'm not even sure some of these exist except as marks proposed by witty folk (the Exclamation Comma, Question Comma, and Snark), while others are pretty widely used and understood, even if people don't know their names (Caret, Solidus, Asterism, Hedera, Pilcrow). Some are seen mainly in mathematics or symbolic formulas (Sheffer Stroke, Because Sign); another is used in European typesetting (Guillemets).


But it's the Section Sign, § (there, I knew you wanted to see it!) that got a lot of love in the comments section. Lawyers young and old gleefully proclaimed their familiarity with the so-called "obscure" mark. Well known to any lawyer, including Grisham, an § marks the beginning of a new section, while §§  marks subsections. Formed from two Ss, from the Latin signum sectionis, "sign of section," the sign is straightforward in its origin, meaning, and usage.


What delighted me was the joy with which the lawyers in the buzzfeed crowd called out the sign. Legal eagles are the stars of Grisham's exciting world, make lots of money, and figure regularly in the news, but a lot of them are geeks, just like us grammar fans, after all.

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by Fricka on ‎12-12-2011 09:52 AM

I also like that symbol for the Section Sign, Ellen. I wish it weren't (1) so obscure and (2) connected mainly to the Legal community. That symbol would have come in handy for a number of students who were writing research papers that required different sections, like an opposing viewpoint, rebuttal, and return to primary argument. Plus, several textbooks for English 102 have been using the Toulmin system, which essentially is built on legal premises(i.e, the underlying assumption and warrant).

Just out of curiousity, where did you find the actual key symbol for section??? I found myself looking very closely at my keyboard, in case it might be there, just not usually used. Alas, it was not to be found. I wish some clever keyboard manufacturers would come up with specialized, but affordable, keyboards, with some of those now obscure grammatical symbols.

by Blogger Ellen_Scordato on ‎04-19-2012 12:18 PM

ah, Fricka, so sorry I hadn't seen this! I found that symbol on a site, and cut and pasted it. I believe it's also on the Mac special symbols grid--you can get to it with a keystroke combo, but that's the only way.

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