Thursday, February 9, 2017

When to Use Special Typographic Symbols

Following up on another post, I'd like to provide some information on when special typographic symbols should be used.

  • Ampersand (&) — Used informally to denote "and"
  • Ampersat (@) — Commonly used in email address but also used informally to denote “at” or, in healthcare, “before”
  • Asterisk (*) — Denotes a footnote; also used to indicate unknown letters (as in “sh*t”)
  • Asterism (⁂) — Rarely used symbol that calls attention to text that follows
  • Back slash (\) — Used primarily in computing and website addresses
  • Caret (^) — Commonly used by editors and copyeditors to indicate text or other content to be added to a particular location in a document
  • Copyright (©) — Used to indicate a copyrighted name or document, typically immediately prior to the copyright year
  • Dagger (†) — Also called an obelisk; denotes a second footnote (double dagger ‡ ) on a page 
  • Degree (°) — Indicates degrees of temperature or angle
  • Zero glyph (slashedzero.jpg) — Infrequently used in typography; used in handwriting to indicate zero as distinguished from capital O
  • Ellipsis (…) — Indicates missing text (Note: When an ellipsis is used at the end of a sentence (use an ellipsis symbol and then a period.)
  • Em dash (—) — Commonly used to replace a colon, comma, or parenthetical phrase (Called “em” dash because it is the width of the lowercase “m”)
  • En dash (–) — Indicates a range, as in 2–4 or 2007–2010; also used as a minus sign (Equal to ½ width of em dash)
  • Guillemets (gillemet.jpg) — Used in some languages to indicate speech
  • Hyphen (-) — Used to join words (“full-blown argument”) or indicate a missing word (“short- and long-range” )
  • Interpunct () — Rarely used dot between words; sometimes used in logos
  • Interrobang (‽) — Rarely used combination of exclamation point and question mark; indicates an exclamatory question (“Do you have any idea what you’re doing‽”)
  • Lozenge (⧫) — Open or closed diamond often used as a bullet
  • Pound sign (#) — Also called octothorpe or hashtag; indicates pounds in weight or to precede a word or phrase (without spaces) commonly searched online
  • Obelus (÷) — Division sign in mathematics
  • Pilcrow (❡) — Commonly used by editors and copyeditors to indicate new paragraph break
  • Prime (′) — Used most often to indicate feet or minutes; double prime used to indicate inches or seconds
  • Registered trademark (®) — Indicates name or logo that has been registered with a national trademark office
  • Section sign (§) — Also called silcow; most commonly indicates a particular section of a document, especially legal documents
  • Virgule( ⁄) — Also called solidus; separates nominator and denominator in a fraction; not the same as a forward slash, which is more upright (/)
  • Therefore sign (∴) — Used in mathematical proofs before a logical consequence
  • Tilde (~) — Used as a diacritical mark over letters (ã) or in mathematics to indicate an approximation (~18) or similarity between values
  • Trademark (™) — Used after a symbol, word, or phrase legally representing a company or product of a company


Monday, February 6, 2017

Typographic Symbols and Their Names

Reprinting a popular post from an old blog of mine.


Ever see an odd little symbol and wonder to yourself, Self, what do you suppose that odd little symbol is called?

Wonder no more. Here’s a handy little list of odd little typographic symbols and their names.


Friday, February 3, 2017

Death in Donora

The Monongahela River meanders from the West Virginia coal country to the middle of Pittsburgh, where it joins the Ohio and Allegheny rivers in a famous confluence called Three Rivers. Along the way the river curls around this hill and that, forming elbows and horseshoes that can make travel between towns along its banks long and lonely.

Donora along the west bank of the Monongahela
Along one of those curves, a large horseshoe about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, lies a a town called Donora, an old mill town that would largely be forgotten now were it not for an unusually long patch of unlucky weather that led to the deaths of hundreds of people and ultimately prompted the creation of the Clean Air Act. For it was at that horseshoe curve that at the turn of the 20th century a wealthy Indiana industrialist, William H. Donner, had decided to build a series of zinc and steel plants to supply the growing needs of a flowering America.

The plants employed thousands of Donora residents, supplied steel and wiring for hundreds of buildings, bridges, and highways, and spewed untold tons of respiratory pollutants and irritants into the air. In the fall of 1948 Mr. Donner's plants gave grave notice to the town that all was not well.

On Tuesday October 26, the air over Donora became foggy from cool air being trapped beneath warmer air above in what meteorologists term a temperature inversion. Normally inversions last less than a day, but this one lasted a devastating five days. Within two days the fog had turned into a stinging, yellowish-gray shroud so thick that many people couldn't drive, couldn't even walk without stumbling. "It was so bad," said one resident, "that I'd accidentally step off the curb and turn my ankle because I couldn't see my feet."

On the worst day, Saturday the 30th, two brave volunteer firefighters, Bill Schempp and Jim Glaros, worked their way around town, each feeling his way from house to house to deliver oxygen to residents with respiratory problems. Each visit lasted only a few minutes and happened the same way. The firefighter placed a mask on someone struggling to breathe and turned the oxygen on for just a few seconds, what they called a "shot of oxygen." Just as the person began to breathe more easily, the firefighter then moved to the next house. The residents needed continuous oxygen but there simply weren't enough oxygen tanks to go around. "These people were just desperate for air," said historian Brian Charlton, curator of the Donora Smog Museum and active member of the Donora Historical Society.

So it was that two firefighters, men who had lived and worked with the people of Donora for years, who had fought fires, transported the sick and injured to local hospitals, and plucked frightened cats from raging storm drains, had to decide how much oxygen to give each resident. They had to say over and over, No, I'm sorry, as they shut off the oxygen and removed the mask. They had to listen to those desperately ill people plead with them, begging for their life, and then these volunteers had to walk away knowing they might never see their friends alive again.

All told 27 people would die over that five-day period, at least 50 more the following month, and hundreds more over the following years. The event spurred an investigation by the Division of Industrial Hygiene, then part of the U.S. Department of Public Health and now part of the Environmental Protection Agency. After numerous states, including Pennsylvania, enacted their own clean air acts, the Government decided that clean air should be a national priority and in 1955 passed the first national air pollution law, initially called the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955 (public law 84–159), later renamed the Clean Air Act.

Today Donora residents maintain a sense of pride about the tragic events of that dark October 68 years ago. In a 2009 interview with NPR, long-time Donora resident Don Pavelko said, "We here in Donora say this episode was the beginning of the environmental movement. These folks gave their lives so we could have clean air."