Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

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Who Will Win the Punctuation Popularity Contest?

Filed under: Headline Shooter   Tagged: , , , , , ,

Emily Gordon writes:

A few stars—and we don’t mean asterisks—are emerging in our punctuation-addressing contest to win Ben Greenman’s new book, What He’s Poised to Do. Here are the rankings of letter recipients so far, out of 82 entries and counting. What does this say about these marks, or about us as a society? We don’t know. All we know is, some of these little symbols are coming home with an armful of valentines (and a little hate mail), and some are Charlie Brown, weeping into their sandwiches. If you’re for the underdog, as we generally are, take a moment to send a note to, say, the solitary slash, or, for that matter, the ubiquitous but apparently invisible backslash. Send a salami to your manicule in the army! Keep those cards and letters coming.

The current rankings (to be updated frequently for those placing bets):
Ellipsis: 10
Semicolon (which has withstood some harsh attacks in the past): 8
Apostrophe: 7
Exclamation Point: 7
At sign: 3
Ampersand: 3
Asterisk: 3
Colon: 3
Parentheses: 3
Period: 5
em dash: 2
Grawlix: 2
Interrobang: 2
Manicule: 2
Question Mark: 2
Tilde: 2

Tied with one piece of fan (or unfan) mail each: acute accent, air quote, at-the-price-of, bracket, bullet, comma, curly quote, diaeresis, dollar sign en dash, exclaquestion mark, hyphen, interpunct, interroverti (formerly the inverted question mark), macron, percent sign, pilcrow, pound sign, quotation mark, smart quote, underline, Oxford comma.

No postcards, no wedding invitations, no junk mail, no J. Crew catalogue, no nuthin’: backslash, bullet, caret, copyright symbol, dagger, dash ditto mark, degree, ditto mark, double hyphen, inverted exclamation point, guillemets, lozenge, number sign (number sign! that’s the hashtag you use so shamelessly!), the “therefore” and “because” signs, slash, solidus, and tie.

Here are some stark and potentially upsetting images of those characters who have received no mail. Can you look into their fragile strokes and deny them the notice they crave?

\ • © ^ ° † ‡ « » = 〃 ⁀ ◊ ∴ ∵ ¡ # / ⁄

Note: We realize that some of these marks are really less punctuation than they are typographical elements. But since they’re getting letters, or we think they should, we’re including them.


A really interesting read! I did similar research for my MA where I asked 50 random people to name their favourite marks. The results proved to be very interesting with Ampersands and Exclamation marks being the winners. Umlauts and pilcrows made appearances but a lot of people included mathematical symbols in their answers.
Anyway, wanted to say great site and apologies for my research ramble!

I’d love to read that thesis! Did you publish it somewhere, or are you in the process of publishing it? May we perhaps run an excerpt?

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