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The origins of punctuation marks we use in everyday life:


Question Mark ?
Origin: When early scholars wrote in Latin, they would place the word questio – meaning “question” – at the end of a sentence to indicate a query. To conserve valuable space, writing it was soon shortened to qo, which caused another problem – readers might mistake it for the ending of a word. So they squashed the letters into a symbol: a lowercased q on top of an o. Over time the o shrank to a dot and the q to a squiggle, giving us our current question mark.

Exclamation Point !
Origin: Like the question mark, the exclamation point was invented by stacking letters. The mark comes from the Latin word io, meaning “exclamation of joy.” Written vertically, with the i above the o, it forms the exclamation point we use today.

Equal Sign =
Origin: Invented by Welsh mathematician Robert Recorde in 1557, with this rationale: “I will settle as I doe often in woorke use, a paire of paralleles, or Gmowe [i.e., twin] lines of one length, thus : , bicause noe 2 thynges, can be more equalle.” His equal signs were about five times as long as the current ones, and it took more than a century for his sign to be accepted over its rival: a strange curly symbol invented by Descartes.

Ampersand &
Origin: This symbol is stylized et, Latin for “and.” Although it was invented by the Roman scribe Marcus Tullius Tiro in the first century B.C., it didn’t get its strange name until centuries later. In the early 1800s, schoolchildren learned this symbol as the 27th letter of the alphabet: X, Y, Z, &. But the symbol had no name. So, they ended their ABCs with “and, per se, and” meaning “&, which means ‘and.’” This phrase was slurred into one garbled word that eventually caught on with everyone: ampersand.

Octothorp #
Origin: The odd name for this ancient sign for numbering derives from thorpe, the Old Norse word for a village or farm that is often seen in British placenames. The symbol was originally used in mapmaking, representing a village surrounded by eight fields, so it was named the octothorp.
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