On the Dot

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This is a bit late for National Punctuation Day (September 24), but the book wasn't published until October 2: On the Dot: The Speck that Changed the World, by Alexander Humez and Nicholas Humez (Oxford University Press). It's a celebration of the dot ("the smallest meaningful symbol that one can make with ink from a pen or a press, a stylus on wax or clay, or a hammer and chisel on stone") — a charming romp through the many uses of this symbol, with a very substantial (49-page) section of notes following the main text.

A warning: the Humez brothers' style is associative, with one topic leading loosely to another, and with digressions and divagations to all sorts of side topics: lots of etymologies, plus discussions of footnotes, euphemisms, censorship, acronyms, emoticons, instant messaging, uses of the word half, and much more. Many people enjoy this sort of writing — they are entertained by coming across odd bits of information — but some just find it annoyingly discursive. If you're familiar with James Burke's Connections (the column in Scientific American, the television show, or the book), you might use your reaction to it as a gauge of how you'll probably feel about On the Dot. I found it delightful, though best read a bit at a time.


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