Punctuation marks have personalities! Don’t they? So what punctuation mark are you?
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A Brief History of the Ampersand and the Question Mark
The ampersand’s origin is attributed to the Latin word et, which means “and.” The letters E and T were sometimes written together to form a ligature (a character created by joining two or more letters). A writer could save time by combining the letters. Since one letter flows into the next, the ampersand was an example of cursive.
The question mark’s history is shrouded in mystery. One claim is that it was inspired by cat tails, either by the Egyptians or a monk. Another is that scholars in the Middle Ages wanted to indicate a sentence was a question, they would write “quaestio.” Eventually this was shortened to qo. Next, the q ended up on top of the o, and that is how the question mark was birthed.
Most scholars chalk this up to another urban myth since there is no evidence of this.
Alcuin of York was an English scholar and poet who was invited in 781 to join Charlemagne’s court. He became a trusted advisor to Charlemagne and published many books. Punctuation in the early Middle Ages consisted of a system of dots at different levels. To indicate how our tone of voice rises when we ask a question, Alcuin invented the punctus interrogativus, or “point of interrogation.” This sign was a dot with a tilde or “lightning flash” symbol above it.
Its was not used consistently until the 17th century. Sometimes writers used an exclamation mark instead or omitted it. In the 17th century the symbol took on its current shape and use. But the mark had to wait until the mid-19th century to get its name–a “question mark.”