Happy National Punctuation Day! Founded by Jeff Rubin, National Punctuation Day is celebrated in the United States and has been celebrated every year on September 24 for nearly a decade and a half. At Proof It, we’re going to celebrate the holiday by taking a brief look at the comma.
Aristophanes of Byzantium was a Greek literary critic and grammarian who became the chief librarian in Alexandria, Egypt in c. 195 BC. Around this time, writers wrote with no spaces between their words justlikethisandleftittothereader to figure it out—now imagine sentences and paragraphs crammed together like this. As you can tell, that caused some issues. Aristophanes suggested using dots of ink aligned with the middle (·), bottom (.) or top (·) of each line, each indicating the pause length to help readers.
Indicating pauses in writing temporarily fell out of practice until people began to write down their religious passages to distribute them. Punctuation became very important as people wanted to preserve the meanings of their words. In the 7th century, Archbishop Isidore of Seville updated Aristophanes’ system by rearranging the dots in order of height to indicate the length of the pause respective to the height of the dot. Previously, the dots just indicated how long a speaker should pause. Isidore also assigned meaning to each piece of punctuation.
Punctuation continued to morph. Boncompagno da Signa, an Italian writer in the 12th century, proposed using a slash (/) for a pause and a dash (—) for the end of the sentence. We don’t know what happened to da Signa’s dash, but the slash was here to stay.
In the late 15th century, Aldus Manutius, an Italian printer and typographer, helped standardize punctuation and defined rules for the comma and semicolon. Manutius kept the slash—also called a virgule which is the word for comma in French. Rather than keeping the slash in line with text, Manutius lowered the it and slightly curved it.
Today, the comma is a pretty common piece of punctuation we see. Unlike it’s early start where commas denoted pauses in speech, commas currently have specific rules, though some of which are style rules.
Keep this in mind today with whatever you read, and say a little thank you to our comma heroes above that wearentstillreadinglikethis.
Happy National Punctuation Day!