Punctuation and the question mark: A timeline
Further reading:The Creation of the Question Mark
- 200 B.C.: The beginnings of the Greek system of punctuation. Aristophanes of Byzantium, librarian of the Museum at Alexandria, invents the critical signs, marks of quantity, accents, breathings, and so on, still employed in Greek texts.
- 8th c. A.D.: Charlemagne’s Anglo-Saxon adviser Alcuin introduces the Carolingian minuscule script in Latin documents (the forerunners of our lowercase letters), along with the first evidence for a new system of punctuation.
- 9th c.: The Greek punctuation system is supplemented by the Greek form of question mark (;).
- 12th c.: Alcuin’s system reaches its perfection. Stops in the form of points or commas are joined by the mark later known as punctus elevatus (:) and by the question mark (punctus interrogativus), of much the same shape as the modern one but inclined to the right. The source of these two new marks was apparently the system of musical notation used for Gregorian chant.
- 16th c.: The basic form of the question mark (?) was developed in sixteenth-century England. Typographic historians contend that the design for the question mark was derived from an abbreviation of the Latin word quaestio (=what). At first this symbol consisted of a capital 'Q' atop a lowercase 'o'. Over time this early symbol simplified to the mark we use today.
- 17th c.: By the end of the century the various marks have received their modern names, and the exclamation mark, quotation marks, and the dash had been added to the system
(From the limited edition of poems A Brief History of Punctuation
by Maurya Simon, October 2002)
It grew slowly, atom by atom, curving
its serpentine line around a doubt.
For eons it hung suspended in the air,
like a shepherd's crook, an ebony cane
a blind woman hung out at midnight
on an invisible clothesline.
It did not form itself from Adam's mouth,
it did not sprout as a kinky white hair
from Gilgamesh's never trimmed beard,
it did not electrify loose ganglia
into synaptic fright in God's mind,
nor curdle the earthworm, nor shape
the sickle that mows down everything.
Like a lily, it roused itself to life,
unfurling into reason's limbo quietly,
and it left in its wake a single teardrop,
a tiny pin-prick of dew, a dab of salt
for the air minions to lick eternally—
that minute mirror begetting wonder.