Who invented the Exclamation Point

Narrator: Hey, Smarty Pants. I’m in the library checking out some books. I’m going to read two sentences out loud, see if you can tell the difference in what they mean. Ready? Here we go. Did you eat children? Did you eat children? Hmm. You may have noticed the words in each of those sentences were exactly the same, but the meaning not so much. Here, listen again. Did you eat children? Did you eat children? Yep. The first one sounds like you’re asking the children if they’ve eaten yet.

Smarty Pants: Who wants meat Cake?

Narrator: And the second one sounds like you’re asking a giant if they ate any children

Speaker 4: Three. Five, four. Fun.

Narrator: So, if the words are exactly the same, how is it that there can be two totally different meanings, children being fed food versus children being food?

Unknow speaker: Bob

Narrator: I’ll give you a hint. It has to do with a small punctuation mark. Can you guess what it is? Is it;
(a) A period
(b), A question mark or
(c), A comma?

Did you say C? Comma, you’re right. And as you just heard, punctuation is very important when it comes to giving words meaning. But have you ever wondered where punctuation marks came from? Who invented the question mark? And why does it look like that?

Speaker 1: I don’t know.

Narrator: What are the origins of the period and who came up with the semicolon? Do you even know what an interrobang is? Slash, exclamation point, Sh?

Smarty Pants: No exclamation points allowed in the library period.

Narrator: Sorry. It’s time for another whiff of science and history on

Who Smarted, Who Smarted? Who Smart? Is it you? Is it me? Is it science or history? Listen up everyone. We make smarting a lot of fun on Who Smarted

Narrator: Hey, Smarty Pants, all of the symbols that we now refer to as quotes, punctuation marks, end quote, were created to help you correctly read comma, and understand comma, written text, period. Of course, we usually don’t read the punctuation out loud. Instead, we use it as a guide.

Smarty Pants: Could you imagine a world without punctuation marks? Everything you read would seem like a never-ending run-on sentence without any emotion to it. Whether it be something short like a poem or a text, or something long like a novel.

Narrator: And nobody wants that, it’s exhausting. Instead, we use punctuation from the Latin puncti meaning point, to help you navigate sentences, let you know when to pause or stop. When something is a question or an exclamation.

Smarty Pants: Shush,

Narrator: Sorry.

Smarty Pants: Punctuation includes not only symbols like commas, apostrophes, and exclamation points, but also the use of spacing and typography choices, like italics, for book titles, or underlined for importance, or bold for something you wish to emphasize.

Narrator: Of course, one of the trickiest things about punctuation is understanding the rules.

Smarty Pants: And the first rule is there are no rules.

Narrator: No rules. How can that be?

Smarty Pants: Oh, there are plenty of conventions for using punctuation, quote, unquote properly. But those rules may be different depending on whether you’re working on an essay for school, a newspaper article, a legal brief, a novel, a screenplay, song lyrics, a blog post, a ship captain log, etcetera, etcetera.

Narrator: Oh, I get it. Different types of writing invite different styles of punctuation or format

Smarty Pants: Precisely. Take this who smarted script we are reading right now. You’ll notice it has many of the conventions of a theater script with some music and audio cues. Sometimes the writer will choose to smash up a bunch of words together or elongate words for emphasis. All of these choices inform us how the script should be read. The writer has a lot of power, thanks, largely to the cues provided by punctuation.

Narrator: It’s true. Lots of writers make creative punctuation choices to clarify their ideas.

Smarty Pants: Lack reading silly words very loud by putting them in all caps. Pumpernickel, sneaky varmint, aardvark.

Narrator: Shh, no yelling in the library.

Smarty Pants: Sorry.

Narrator: Luckily, the writer of this episode has a true appreciation of punctuation and would never use it irresponsibly. Question mark, exclamation point. So, where and when did punctuation first begin? Well, for thousands of years, writers carried on without any punctuation.

Speaker 5: Say, author, I like your writing, but how can I tell when a sentence ends?

Unknow speaker: When I run out of stone? I guess.

Smarty Pants: Then in third century, BCE, a librarian named Aristophanes from the academic city of Alexandria Egypt decided he’d seen enough.

Aristophanes: Ah, I’ve seen enough, and this famous library holds thousands of scrolls, but they’re a royal pain in the neck to read. Literally, my neck is killing me from reading scroll after scroll where every word runs together with no spaces

Smarty Pants: And with no distinction between uppercase or lowercase letters. It was entirely up to the reader to guess where one sentence ended and the next began.

Aristophanes: It’s a mess, and I’ve seen enough. I think I would invent punctuation.

Narrator: Well, it wasn’t quite as simple as all that. Aristophanes suggested that readers could insert suggested pauses into their work by aligning dots with the top, middle, or bottom of each line. The placement of the dot would indicate the length of the pause.

Aristophanes: Ah, I shall call these dots, comma, colon, and perilous???06:51

Narrator: It was a good start.

Aristophanes: Heck yeah, it is exclamation point.

Smarty Pants: However, Aristophanes’ punctuation was not received enthusiastically in the early democracies of Greece and Rome. The art of persuasive speech, such as in debate, was considered more meaningful than a well-written, easily readable Scroll.

Aristophanes: No.

Narrator: When the Romans sped ahead of the Greeks in the race to dominate territory and impose political and cultural standards, they threw out Aristophanes clever system of dots. Emperor Cicero claimed that the end of a sentence ought to be determined not by the speakers pausing for breath or by a stroke, inserted by a copious, but by the constraint of the rhythm.

Aristophanes: So annoying exclamation point.

Smarty Pants: The Romans did experiment briefly with separating their written words with dots instead of spaces. But by the second century CE, they’d given up on that and gone back to the mumble reading a mud text.

Aristophanes: Hmm.

Narrator: As the Roman empire crumbled in the fourth and fifth centuries,

Aristophanes: Ha serves you right.

Narrator: Roman Pagans quickly found themselves losing a culture battle with a new religion known as Christianity.

Smarty Pants: Whereas Pagan’s stories were passed down through an oral storytelling tradition. Christians prefer to write their stories down and compile them in multipage anthologies, AKA books.

Narrator: These new Christian books featured decorative letters, intricately painted illustrations and paragraph markings.

Aristophanes: Oh, just like I’ve been saying this whole time,

Narrator: As Christianity spread across Europe, authors began punctuating their own works to protect their original meaning. Then in the seventh century, Archbishop Isador of Seville described an updated version of Aristophanes’ punctuation system. Archbishop Isador even expanded upon Aristophanes’ system defining the comma or sub distinctuo as a grammatical breakpoint.

Unknow speaker: Ah,

Narrator: Whereas the period or distinctuo??? 09:18 finales marked the end of a sentence.

Aristophanes: That’s what I’m talking about.

Narrator: Soon after, thanks to exasperated Scottish and Irish monks tired of separating Latin words, all mushed together, spaces between words became commonplace.

Aristophanes: And doesn’t that simplify everything?

Narrator: Toward the end of the eighth century, medieval European ruler Charlemagne tasked among called Quinn, with creating a unified alphabet, which included lowercase letters. Punctuation was finally taking hold.

Aristophanes: It totally took a thousand years

Smarty Pants: With a few conventions or commonly used rules in place. Scholars found even more ways to give the written words, specific meaning

Narrator: Borrowing from musical notation marks like the puncti-verses and puncti-elivatis had grammatical meaning and suggested changes in tone. These would later become our semicolon and colon,

Unknow speaker: Ah,

Smarty Pants: And the puncti and otus,??? 10:24 often written as a dot with a Latin flash above. It was used to express the rise and inflection that described a question.

Narrator: This later became the question mark you know today. Funny story, it’s said that the curved shape of a question mark is meant to resemble the shape of an inquisitive cat’s tail

Unknow speaker: Meow.

Narrator: Regardless of whether that’s true, the question mark came into use in the 15th century. In fact, punctuation marks became mostly standardized after the printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg around 1436.

Smarty Pants: With all that printed text being shared throughout Europe, punctuation conventions were established relatively quickly

Narrator: By about 1500. Most of the symbols we use today had a consistent shape and use. The continued evolution of technology from typewriters, to word processors, to computers and smartphones further solidified the need for both common and creative punctuation.

Aristophanes: You are welcome.

Smarty Pants: Of course, this history of punctuation is only relevant to languages that use the Latin or Roman alphabet. Each language will have some punctuation that is unique. Languages that use an alphabet other than ours, like Arabic, Silicic or Kanji, have their own standard for punctuation.

Narrator: Very true, and long after Aristophanes three system language and the symbols we use to punctuate it have evolved and continue to evolve. For example, today emojis are used as casual punctuation in texts and emails. But what other potential punctuation will they come up with next? to find out, stick around smarty pants, winking face with tongue victory, hand emoji?

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Narrator: Now, back to Who Smarted. Thanks to smartphones, tablets and computers, we now have the ability to share text so speedily and easily that it’s prompted a bit of an online brawl between various punctuation possess.

Speaker 7: I say Chicago all the way

Speaker 8: Tak talk, it’s the Queen’s English. Oxford, therefore is the only sensible choice.

Smarty Pants: It’s the Associated Press or the AP star. God for me,

Narrator: Oops. I’m staying out of this. Not long ago I was double spacing between every sentence, but now they say, you don’t have to.

Speaker 7: It’s the grandma police, scram.

Narrator: The truth is people have their punctuation preferences and certain professions have their standards, but with language constantly evolving and expanding, intention is often just as important as retention.

Smarty Pants: Still, we do our best to memorize the rules. I mean conventions, which continue to change over time.

Narrator: Hey, Smarty Pants. Did you know that there were some punctuation marks that were proposed but never took off?

Smarty Pants: What?

Narrator: For instance, the love point, which looks like two question marks facing each other to form a heart. Proposed in the 1960s by French author Ave Bra, the Love Mark was intended to end any heartfelt sentence like My dog is my best friend.

Smarty Pants: Personally, I was a big fan of the sarcasm Mark or Sar Mark

Narrator: Were you though?

Smarty Pants: Invented by Douglas Sack and trademark in 2010? The SAR mark looks like a swirl with a little dot in the middle. The SAR mark was meant to be a way to let people know you were being sarcastic.

Narrator: Yeah, that’ll work.

Smarty Pants: Who knows how many arguments the SAR mark would’ve prevented in social media?

Narrator: My favorite is the Interrobang, invented in 1962 by advertising executive Martin Specter. An Interrobang is part question and part exclamation. Whoa, did you see that?! It’s meant to induce shock or disbelief?

Smarty Pants: Originally, the Interrobang was written as a question mark and an exclamation point directly on top of each other. Today, it is most commonly written as a question mark, followed by an exclamation point, something that’s easy to read and easy to top out.

Narrator: The fun thing is anyone can introduce new punctuation, even you Smarty Pants, brain emoji, pants emoji, apostrophe S.

Outro: A Super shout out to Michael in Arizona who loves listening to, who’s smarted because we have a lot of fun science facts and that my friend is also a fact. Thanks for smarting with us, Michael. This episode Punctuation was written by Libby Ward and voiced by Kim exclamation point, Davis Taya, quotation Marks Scarlet Joe apostrophe text, Brandon Bracket Bayless, Adam, question Mark Davis and Jerry Kohler. Technical direction and sound design by Josh hyphen Han. Who Smarted is recorded and mixed at the Relic Room Studios. Our associate producer is Max Colin Kaki. The theme song is by Brian Semi Suarez, with lyrics written and performed by Adam Tex Davis. Who Smarted was created and produced by Adam Tex Davis and Jerry Coleman. This has been an atomic entertainment production

Who Smarted. Star Glow.