Shady Characters

Shady Characters

Ampersands, Interrobangs and other Typographical Curiosities


Where does the ampersand get its name from? What does the hashtag have to do with commerce in ancient Rome? Keith Houston gives the answers in this delightfully entertaining book.

From the pilcrow ¶ to the ampersand, the entire cast of Shady Characters reflects the changes in written communication through the ages, charting how punctuation has adapted to each new technological innovation. Together, these shady characters form a rich, entertaining and surprising history of the written word and our ongoing attempts to shape it.

'Engaging typographical journeys . . . Houston brings to life a history of ingenuity and imagination' The Times

'Entertaining, informative, a must-read. If ever a book deserved its hardbacked, reverse-embossed, lavishly illustrated, thick white heavy paper incarnation, and a place on an actual bookshelf, it is Shady Characters' Guardian

'Houston brings considerable wit to the 5,000-year-old enigma of how we attempt to communicate our thoughts through visible signs . . . Shady Characters might make you look at books - in print or online - in an entirely new way' Nature

'Refreshing . . . the stories he uncovers along the way are fascinating' Telegraph

'Ventures into the previously untrodden history of punctuation marks . . . scholarly, highly readable' Spectator

Keith Houston is the founder of, where he writes about the unusual stories behind some well-known - and some rather more outlandish - marks of punctuation.

About the author

Keith Houston

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