COLUMN: Celebrate National Punctuation Day by learning these 7 obsolete marks

Seven obsolete punctuation marks. Photo credit: Kira Andrus

In a world of misplaced semicolons and distracting comma splices, it’s important now more than ever to treasure Sept. 24 as National Punctuation Day.

Punctuation is important; no, really! After all, dinosaurs didn’t use commas, and now they’re extinct. Coincidence?

In all seriousness, though, the writing universe would be inadequate without the clarity-enhancing, purpose-producing power of punctuation. Take these sentences, for example:

— Shell come the meetings at 8 right

— She’ll come! The meeting’s at 8, right?

It’s no secret the second sentence, the one with punctuation, makes more sense and carries more emotion. No English, business or horticulture major would challenge me on that. Period.

But something even the most experienced English major would be fascinated to discover is that our punctuation marks don’t stop at the semicolon or the period (pun intended). History has invented and demolished marks that aren’t deemed useful today. But, I’ll let you be the judge of that.

As a note of warning, these marks are informal and unconventional, so your English teacher may mark off a few points for their usage in your midterm research paper. However, try one in the occasional Facebook post or after-date text for extra flair.

Here are seven marks to add a dash of variety to your punctuation arsenal:

1. Doubt point

A doubt point, which looks like an exclamation point mixed with the letter "z."
The doubt point. Photo credit: Kira Andrus

Purpose: To express doubt or skepticism at the end of a sentence.

Invented: 1966 by Hervé Bazin.

Let’s start with a mark so unbelievable that it means disbelief itself. Looking like something from a music score, the doubt point allows you to end a sentence with an uneasy sense of hesitation, as if you don’t really believe what you wrote.

Did you remember to turn off the stove? Is a tomato actually a fruit? Are birds really just government drones created to monitor our every move? With so many uncertainties in day-to-day life, the doubt point reminds us we don’t have to know everything.

Feel free to use the doubt point whenever you’re unsure about something. After all, no one is completely certain about anything — right?

2. Friendly period

A friendly period, which looks like a period with a semicircle below it.
The friendly period. Photo credit: Kira Andrus

Purpose: To end a sentence lightly without making the period sound angry or sarcastic.

Invented: 2010 by Courtenay Hameister.

Texting language has developed to a point where ending a sentence with a period makes it sound angry. However, you can’t always end it with an exclamation point or leave it blank. The friendly period solves this stigmeological dilemma.

This mark — though as simple as drawing a smile under the period — can save relationships by telling the reader not to take offense. It’s too bad this period has yet to make its way to texting keyboards; it makes logical sense to use this mark in every message that someone could innocently take as an insult.

Don’t you wish your calculus group project members had a punctuation style like this? So many problems could be resolved if you only knew a sender’s words weren’t passive aggressive.

3. Snark mark

A snark mark, which looks like a period to the left of a tilde.
The snark mark. Photo credit: Kira Andrus

Purpose: To express sarcasm in a sentence that would otherwise be read literally.

Invented: 2007 by Choz Cunningham.

Type: A period and a tilde.

You know those times when your third cousin twice removed texts you out of the blue to hang out, but you know he just wants free food, so you sarcastically text, “Lol, we should DEFINITELY hang out sometime,” and he takes it literally, so you have Arby’s together the next Thursday? No? Well, the snark mark could have helped.

The snark mark comes after a hyperbole, understatement or otherwise sarcastic statement to show an ironic, hidden meaning. Now that you know there’s a way to write sarcastically without emojis, you may want to use the snark mark as often as college campuses start construction projects.~

Requiring only a tilde after a period, this is a simple punctuation mark you could use daily. Easy, but it’s an effortless way to avoid paying for seven Classic Beef ‘n Cheddar sandwiches after your cousin “forgets” his wallet.~

4. Exclamation comma

An exclamation comma, which looks like an exclamation point above a comma.
The exclamation comma. Photo credit: Kira Andrus

Purpose: To express strong emotions in the middle of a sentence.

Invented: 1992 by Leonard Storch, Sigmund Silber and Haagen Ernst Van.

Speakers of all languages know that excitement doesn’t just happen at the end of the sentence. Luckily for eccentric grammarian and sophisticated student alike, there’s a punctuation mark for that.

The exclamation comma offers all the animation of the exclamation point without having to end the sentence just when things are getting exhilarating. To make things spicier, this mark has an interrogative counterpart called the “question comma,” in case you wanted to ask a question before the sentence is up.

Life is exciting, so why not bring that enthusiasm after every independent clause?

5. Certitude mark

A certitude mark, which looks like an exclamation point with a horizontal line two-thirds of the way up.
The certitude mark. Photo credit: Kira Andrus

Purpose: To show the writer is certain about what he or she writes.

Invented: 1966 by Hervé Bazin.

While this list’s punctuation has obvious names, the meaning of this mark is harder to tell from its title. “Certitude” means “absolute certainty,” expressing a strong conviction in something. The certitude mark is no different, showing the reader that the author has absolute certainty that what he or she wrote is true.

This mark, having the opposite purpose of the doubt point, can make it obvious you know without hesitation that your crush likes you. (Well, on second thought, you might want to stick with the doubt point.)

Assuming the reader understands the certitude mark’s purpose, using it will give your sentences more credibility and show you know what you’re talking about.

6. Love point

A love point, which looks like two question marks in the form of a heart.
The love point. Photo credit: Kira Andrus

Purpose: To express affection.

Invented: 1966 by Hervé Bazin.

If you’re as confused about heart emoji color meanings as I am, or if you punctuate your exclamation points with little hearts, then this mark is for you. The love point is exactly what it sounds like; a way to show affection or love.

Maybe it’s in a handwritten note to a spouse. Maybe it’s on a wedding gift for your BFF graduating bachelorhood. Maybe it’s in a card for an uncle you forgot about until Facebook reminded you of birthdays. The possibilities are endless, while the meaning of affection remains.

Ah, I love atypical punctuation.

7. Interrobang

An interrobang, which looks like an exclamation mark inside of a question mark.
The interrobang. Photo credit: Kira Andrus

Purpose: To express excitement, anger or disbelief when asking a question.

Invented: 1962 by Martin K. Speckter.

Unicode: U+203D

To end our list with a bang, I present the seventh point: the interrobang. This last mark, translating in a basic sense to “questioning exclamation mark,” is one of the better-known obscurities of punctuation.

Even if you’ve never seen an interrobang, chances are you’ve used an exclamation point and question mark beside each other in your third-grade diary or middle school love confession. The interrobang combines the two into one mark that can more easily be inserted without looking clunky or amateurish.

Unlike most obsolete punctuation marks on this list, the interrobang has a cozy home in the special symbols panel of word processing programs. I guess society already deemed it as necessary‽

A punctuation mark is worth a hundred words

If you want to make your hyperboles obvious, how about sneaking in a snark mark? If you don’t want to get blamed for bad relationship advice, why not take the doubt point for a spin? Only writer’s block can halt the applications of these seven new punctuation marks you never knew you needed.

Go on, say it: “Why integrate new symbols into my linguistic repertoire?” Because it’s fun! When words alone cannot do your emotions justice, just recognize you have an unconventional yet brilliant way to cast creativity into your communication.

While most of these marks do not grace the rows of virtual keyboards, don’t let that stop you from writing them out. After all, if we don’t start using them, they could get lost in the archives of typography like a missing footnote on a forgotten page.

On behalf of serial commas and em dashes everywhere, happy National Punctuation Day!