Option–Seven

by abbamoses

The object you see to your left is the pilcrow, a wonderful typographic character with a sad history. At one time, before the development of the modern paragraph (new line with indent), it was used to indicate the beginning of a new paragraph. Older editions of the King James Bible sometimes use pilcrows in this way. (Aside: People who read the “King James” in the belief that they’re getting a text that is somehow uncorrupted by the passage of time should be aware that the “Authorized Version” has been through a number of revisions over the years, and that the original 1611 edition would probably look pretty odd to them, with unfamiliar spellings and punctuation, some changes in wording, even a different spelling of “Jesus”, who in the first editions was called “Iesus”.) Since then, the pilcrow has retreated to its remaining function as a proofreader’s mark (used to indicate that a paragraph break should be inserted) and, in computer word-processing programs, as the standard (though hidden) end-of-paragraph character.

In modern times, a few brave souls have tried to uphold the pilcrow as a paragraph marker. The brilliant, eccentric artist and typographer Eric Gill, in his 1931 Essay on Typography, not only argued for the restoration of the pilcrow but used it as a paragraph mark. I have few hopes that the pilcrow will return to mainstream typography. In fact, it still seems to be in retreat. In a recent blog post, novelist and blogger Andrew Cartmel announced that he was abandoning his use of the pilcrow due to complaints that it made his blog less readable. I’m not sure about that, and more than once I’ve been tempted to adopt the pilcrow myself, in places like this blog. Probably I’ll decide that would be a bit too eccentric.

But I’ve enjoyed using it here.


The title of this post refers to the location of the character on my Mac keyboard.
The pilcrow in the graphic is the italic version in the Hoefler Text font.
This post was inspired by Keith Houston’s gorgeous blog Shady Characters: The secret life of punctuation.Take a look!

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