Request for Punctuation Marks

Request for Punctuation Marks
Illustration for Atoms vs. Bits by Helen Leon

Given how much of our communication we do through writing, I want there to be more punctuation marks.

Here are some that I wish existed:

An “approximate quotation” mark

For use when paraphrasing what somebody else said, when you don’t want to look like you’re stealing credit for it, but equally don’t want to claim you’re quoting their words exactly.

In spoken English, “like” serves this function -- you might tell a story and say

then this fella comes up to me and he’s like “if you stare too long into the abyss then the abyss stares back into you, bro,” and I was like “yeah, absolutely."

Proposed mark: ~enclosed tildas~

Notes: I would prefer something that looks more like existing quote marks do, but it feels more important to have something that’s already on the keyboard.

A speculative / hedging mark

To let you write a paragraph that you’re not really sure about, without constantly having to hedge it with I thinks and possiblys and such.

Various bloggers use “epistemic status” at the top of their posts to signal this -- “epistemic status: speculative” or suchlike. And I like this!, but often I want to signal that a particular line/paragraph is speculative, rather than a whole piece. And a punctuation mark could be used in emails and whatsapp messages and whatever, where you (socially) can’t write “epistemic status: uncertain.”

Edward De Bono proposed the word “po”, a “provocation operator”, to suggest “possibly” or “hypothesis” or “suppose” or whatever -- you could say “po I should write a post about possible punctuation marks,” and that would be different from “I should write a post about possible punctuation marks,” because it would convey your uncertainty about it.

I’m not opposed to po as a word: a little one-syllable marker feels less cumbersome than writing “possibly” or “potentially” all over the place. Still, there’s something simple and elegant about (what I’m going to call, for lack of knowing what they’re properly called) “enclosatory punctuation marks,” like quote marks and parentheses,  that make it clear exactly which words are being marked out as speculative. Otherwise sentences like “po we should break up, I don’t love you any more” become ambiguous, and we wouldn’t want that.

Proposed mark: I’m not sure what to suggest here.

¿inverted question marks could work?

And ¿¿the more inverted question marks you use, the more uncertain you are??

Sarcasm / I’m joking mark

The internet’s been asking for this for ages; “it’s really hard to tell tone in writing!”, etc.

This is tricky because of course part of the fun of joking is other people’s uncertainty over whether you’re joking; in Britain, if more than 50% of an audience can tell you weren’t serious then you weren’t being dry enough.

There’s also a kind of externality problem, where sometimes you want to maintain strategic ambiguity over whether you were joking or not, or be able to claim you were joking depending on the audience’s reaction, and the mere existence of a fully-explicit joke-mark absolutely ruins that for you.

Still: potentially useful I suppose

Proposed mark: /s might be too popular to displace at this point.

I guess curly braces have a certain s’iness to them, and they feel underused in non-technical writing given that the prime keyboard real estate they’re squatting on? {can't see how this could fail, really}



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