September 18, 2023
National Punctuation Day at USU
National Punctuation Day!

September 24 is National Punctuation Day. Created in 2004 by Jeff Rubin, this holiday encourages worldwide literacy and is celebrated in schools with activities and contests. While punctuation may be viewed as a set of rigid grammar rules, the history of these symbols is fascinating, which was discovered by the students enrolled in Professor Joyce Kinkead’s History of Writing class. “Each student adopted a punctuation mark and then explained its origins and use to the rest of the group,” she says. “Imagine that Romans used no punctuation, not even spaces between words.” Eventually a dot was placed on the line, and it moved up and down depending on the length of pause that was to be taken. These dots eventually became our period, comma, and semicolon. What was the origin of the exclamation mark? Monk scribes noted “joy” in the margins of a text with “io,” and eventually, the “I” moved over the “o” to form !. At one time the ampersand (&) was the 27th symbol of the alphabet, visible in Colonial-era samplers. Standardization of punctuation did not really take place until the printing press, and Venetian printer Aldus Manutius popularized several punctuation marks and also introduced italics 

These hidden histories are revealed in the graphic posters designed by Molly Etchberger of Art and Design, printed on letterpress, and written by Honors 1320 students, which will be on display in Merrill-Cazier Library from September 18th-October 9th. What is a percontation point or an interrobang? Viewers will see that punctuation marks have evolved over time or even disappeared. Bell Labs changed the hashtag to an octothorpe in the 1960s and made a place for it on telephones. Chris Messina used # in a tweet in 2007, suggesting that topics could be grouped to make discussions easier.  Project Semicolon has adopted the mark for a grassroots mental health initiative to combat suicide.  Full-length books have been written on punctuation marks: Cecilia Watson’s Semicolon, Paris Mahdavi’s Hyphen, Elizabeth Losh’s Hashtag, and Simon Griffin’s take on apostrophes. The long history of punctuation is summarized in these delightfully whimsical works of art. 

Join the English Department on Friday, September 22 from 12-1 p.m. for a National Punctuation Day celebration, featuring cookies and student posters that showcase the power of punctuation.