Saturday, October 18, 2014

Design notes: terminal punctuation ( ? ! )

The question mark and the exclamation point are some of the most well known punctuation marks, despite the fact that they are fairly uncommon in most prose—the reason I didn’t include it in the essential punctuation posts. The question mark is not rare, though it is not common in most writing—the exception being text with an abundance of dialog. The exclamation point is rarer; most manuals of style actually recommend against using it (though in conversation, the exclamation point is close to default, and it is the period which must be used sparingly).

A long time ago, the question mark and exclamation point were ligatures of a ‘Qo’ and an ‘Jo’—the ‘Q’ standing for “question” and the ‘J’ standing for “joy”, respectively (the ‘o’ comes from the Ancient Latin versions of these words, which both ended in ‘o’). The ‘Q’ degenerated to become the curved stroke over the ‘o’, which collapsed into a dot, forming the ‘?’. The  ‘Jo’ degenerated in a similar way, with the ‘J’ becoming the stem of the exclamation point (though the ‘J’ was written as a straight vertical stroke, ‘I’, back then anyway).

The question mark

The question mark is one of the hardest punctuation marks to design.
  • For whatever reason, the stress on the question mark is opposite that of conventional western calligraphy. Why? It probably has something to do with the fact that when this glyph is drawn in pencil or ballpoint pen, it is most natural for us to put the most pressure on the diagonal strokes.
  • The stroke of the question mark terminates about one period’s width above its lower dot. The stroke’s finial rarely “points” at the dot, rather it’s directed to a location somewhat to the right.
  • The height of the question mark varies among typefaces. Some make it the capital height, others raise it all the way to the ascender line (usually more modern style typefaces). Many make the question mark somewhere between those two heights.

    The exclamation point

    •  The exclamation point is very easy to design. The stem is almost always tapered from top to bottom. The shape of the straight apostrophe (') might be helpful as a base.
    • Exclamation points without a lot of tapering take extra space between their stems and their dots. That’s because at small sizes, the dot and the stem merge vertically into a single stroke—extra space in between helps prevent this from happening.