Today, Strikeout brings you a power ranking of 10 punctuation and typographical marks. This is by no means an exhaustive list of such symbols — these just happen to be the ones that showed up to the party.
- Guillemets, also known as angle quotes, are ranked first because they’re used in French (and lots of other languages, but I’m a French major), they’re pretty, and they’re somewhat unusual but visually convey their purpose quite clearly. Don’t you just feel sophisticated when you read a quote that’s set off with « sideways double chevrons » instead of plain “quotation marks”?
- A close second, the beloved em dash saves us from all sorts of awkward punctuation conundrums. Not the place for a semicolon, but you don’t want separate sentences, either? Need to set something off with greater emphasis than two commas afford? The em dash is longer than its little sisters, the en dash and the hyphen, taking up enough space to set words apart with a controlled flair. I almost didn’t include it in this contest because it seemed such an obvious favorite — but in the end, I couldn’t resist.
- The percent sign takes bronze because it has a cool history and nice aesthetic composition. There’s something about the way “per 100” got scrambled into “%” over the years that makes me appreciate the history reflected in two small circles and a diagonal line. Also, did you know that there are symbols for per mille (‰), per ten thousand (‱), and so on? The possibilities are endless.
- I’ll have to differ from Camryn on this one — the ampersand is in the top half of the list because it also bears an interesting past, originating with the Latin “et” for “and.” Its swoopy form makes it fun to write, & there are enough variations that you can come up with your own signature style.
- The pound sign comes in at fifth. Its two sets of parallel lines make it so satisfying to write, and beyond that, it’s unusually versatile for a punctuation mark. It effortlessly dances from signifying “number” to a musical sharp to #hashtags and back again. You can even use it as a bullet point symbol when you get tired of writing dots and lines.
- Next is the caret, not to be confused with a carrot or carat. It makes the cutest emoticons. Enough said. (^_^)
- The asterisk might have ranked higher for its lovely design if it weren’t so commonly used. But it still makes the list, because it’s great for drawing attention if you put a bunch in a row: *******. One asterisk just doesn’t seem to do the trick in a world inundated with footnotes and fine print.
- Hot on the asterisk’s heels, we have the tilde. Did anyone else go through a phase with this symbol in elementary school? My mom made me my first email account in fourth grade, and I’m pretty sure I signed off every email with “~Grace.” Something about its sassy swirl just got me. In high school, I started throwing it into smiley faces to add some flair — :~). But after a while, a hyphen just seemed more fitting as a nose. My personal history with the tilde is like listening to your favorite song a few too many times — after a while, the magic faded.
- The at sign — it’s useful when taking notes, where it saves the day with its satisfyingly swift execution. But other than that, email addresses and social media have made it too ubiquitous for it to be @nything special.
- I had to put the dollar sign down at No. 10 despite its help in $picing up some words that normally have a regular “s.” Exce$$ive dollar $ign$ just put too much emphasis on money, and that’s not a healthy focus in life.
These little symbols might seem small, but they carry with them centuries of history and some pretty big personalities. Which punctuation marks hold a special place in your heart?
Grace Newsom is the night editor. Contact her at [email protected]