8 weird punctuation marks that faded from the English language

Before emojis, punctuation marks were all we had to punch up our writing and give it more meaning. And while today we primarily rely on periods, commas, and question marks, the English language once boasted a plethora of intriguing punctuation symbols, many that have since faded into near obscurity. Some of these forgotten symbols served highly specific functions, while others were used to simply spice up the mood. The following are eight of the more flamboyant punctuation marks that didn't survive mainstream English.

The Interrobang (‽)

In 1962, American advertising executive Martin K. Speckter introduced the interrobang (‽) to combine the functions of a question mark and an exclamation mark, believing it would enhance the visual appeal of surprised rhetorical questions in advertisements. Though it experienced a brief period of popularity, the interrobang remains a seldom-used punctuation mark, included in some modern fonts and Unicode.

The Hedera (❧)

The hedera (❦), a decorative punctuation mark resembling a floral heart-shaped ivy leaf, originated in early Latin and Greek texts to signify breaks between paragraphs. Although it has largely fallen out of use, replaced by more practical symbols like the asterisk and pilcrow, it occasionally appears in modern decorative contexts and special character lists as a floral scroll or ivy.

The Dagger (†) and Double Dagger (‡)

The dagger (†) symbol originated in the 3rd century BC as the obelus, used by Homeric scholars to mark dubious passages in texts—think of it as the ancient world's red pen. Over time, it evolved through medieval manuscripts and Renaissance printing, becoming a versatile tool for annotation. The double dagger (‡) emerged as a variant for even more detailed footnoting; fun fact, in chess notation, a double dagger signifies checkmate, adding a touch of medieval flair to the game!

The Irony Mark (⸮)

Irony punctuation, introduced in the 1580s by English printer Henry Denham, was created to denote rhetorical questions and irony in text. Despite various proposals for irony-specific marks over the centuries, including reversed question marks and unique symbols, a universally accepted standard has yet to be established. Fun fact: one of the proposed symbols looks like an ideogram of a Christmas tree, proving that even punctuation can get festive!

The Asterism (⁂)

First introduced in the early days of typography, the asterism (⁂) consists of three asterisks arranged in a triangle and was used to mark minor breaks in text. Interestingly, while it has largely fallen out of favor, you can still spot this whimsical symbol indicating moderate snowfall in meteorological station models.

The Snark (⸮)

In 2007, American typographer Choz Cunningham introduced the snark mark—a period followed by a tilde (~)—to help readers detect sarcasm and verbal irony in writing. Despite its practical design and resemblance to a sarcastic wink, it remains a quirky punctuation underdog, perhaps proving that even punctuation marks need a good PR team!

The Section Sign (§)

The section sign (§), introduced in the late Middle Ages by scribes, was created to mark the beginning of individual sections of a legal code or document for easier reference. Fun fact: it's also known as the "double S," which might just make it the superhero of punctuation marks, swooping in to save readers from the chaos of unorganized text!

The Caret (^)

Introduced back in the days of handwritten manuscripts, the caret (^) was adopted by proofreaders to indicate where additional material should be inserted into a text, drawing from the Latin word "caret," meaning "it lacks." Fun twist: while it might look like a tiny rooftop, it's been saving authors from missing commas and forgotten words for centuries, proving that even the smallest symbols can make a big difference!

Previously: A cute and silly book of punctuation marks brought to life in 1824