By Alan Graner
These are questions that, no doubt, have kept you up at night.
The letter i
If you’ve ever seen a Medieval manuscript you’ll notice the letters seem to be constructed mostly of up and down strokes with little room between letters (see image above). As a result, readers had to look closely to determine where a new letter began.
The letter I was the only one created with a single stroke. As a result, the I often appeared to be part of another letter. It was also difficult to differentiate the letter I in certain combinations, e.g., IM from UN. And, in words ending with II, the two Gothic letters often resembled a U, which completely changed the word’s meaning.
To ensure the I was seen as separate character, scribes around 1,000 AD began placing a tittle—a superscript dot—above it.
The letter j
J is a modification of the letter I and was introduced into the alphabet around 1600 AD. Since the I had a superscript dot, the J got one too.
The question mark (?)
The most common explanation for creating the question mark comes from the Middle Ages when Latin scholars placed the word quaestio (“question”) at the end of a sentence to indicate a query. To save time and space, scribes began abbreviating it as qo. Often the letters were stacked, the Q above the O. Over time the letters evolved into a squiggle over a dot, and the question mark was born.
The exclamation point (!)
The exclamation mark was introduced into the English language in the 15th Century. It’s derived from the Latin word io (“exclamation of joy”). Again, to save space, scribes stacked the I above the O similar to the question mark, and voila! The exclamation point!
Have you anything to add?
Alan Graner is Chief Creative Officer at Daly-Swartz Public Relations, an Orange County, CA business public relations and marketing content firm. For content that makes you stand out from the crowd, email Jeffrey Swartz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit www.dsprel.com.
Part of this blog appeared in an earlier version