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!