19 Punctuation Marks You Never Knew You Needed

~I am once again asking you~ to bring back the Exclamation Comma

Jack Shepherd
Cellar Door
Published in
7 min readOct 3, 2022

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Some say the mightiest weapon ever imagined was Anduril — the Flame of the West — the sword that was reforged from the shards of Narsil, which was broken at the Siege of Barad-dûr when Elendil fell to Sauron. You’ll also find plenty of proponents for Mjölnir, the mythical hammer that allows Thor to manipulate the weather, fly, and — when the mood strikes him — open interdimensional portals. And there’s no question that these are absolutely bitchin’ weapons, but let me make a case for the obelus, which means “roasting spit,” and which the ultra-librarian and iconic grammarian Isidore of Seville called The Arrow, because “like an arrow, it slays the superfluous and pierces the false.”¹

As a punctuation mark, the obelus ( — ) gained fame in the 7th century alongside its more celebrated sister, the asterisk, as a mark used in the margins of Homeric texts to single out completely fabricated verses that corrupt and lawless literary critics had tried to sneak into the text for their own nefarious reasons (hence the slaying and the roasting that Isidore was so hyped up about). Later on, it would be paired with some cool dots to make a hypolemniscus (⨪) and a lemniscus (÷), eventually regaining its awesome reputation as the most swashbuckling, street-fighting glyph around by combining the dots and the dash to become a dagger (†), which nowadays mostly does the asterisk’s job when the asterisk gets tired.

Isidore didn’t invent the obelus, but they did make him a saint (presumably he committed some miracles above and beyond his work in the grammatic arts), and in 1997 Pope John Paul II made him the official patron saint of the Internet. If you want to ask Isidore for help when you go online, you should pray to God that

“Through the intercession of Saint Isidore, bishop and doctor, during our journeys through the internet we will direct our hands and eyes only to that which is pleasing to Thee and treat with charity and patience all those souls whom we encounter.”

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Jack Shepherd
Cellar Door

I have a newsletter about crossword puzzles and a podcast about rom-coms. Formerly editorial director @BuzzFeed. Email: JackAShepherd at gmail