Progressive Punctuation has been making the rounds on the internet lately. The site’s tagline is: “A collection of non-standard punctuation marks we should be using today.” There are marks to denote sarcasm, doubt, irony, and so on.
Most of the featured marks were developed decades ago, if not centuries. Some might take that as a sign that these characters should no longer be neglected, as if being developed in an era before Grumpy Cat makes language more legitimate. Others might argue that the representational meaning of these marks merits usage now; that using them allows for more precise communication, now that much of our world communicates primarily via text.
But if they can add so much value to our communication, then why did these marks fade in the first place? Why do some words drop out of common usage that were popular in the 16th century?
Do our current constraints in standardized punctuation create a demand for more nuanced writing skill and more sensitive vocabulary? Do we ever intentionally harness the ambiguity of a sentence to evade responsibility, to convey an inside joke, or to entertain with suggested meanings? How might written language with more specific punctuation affect the assessment of text-based evidence in legal trials? Can it really add more clarity, or can it also open more questions—why was that phrase marked with sarcasm? What else was intended to be conveyed, and why wasn’t that stated directly instead?
And what about the increasing trend of punctuation vanishing altogether? Texts, tweets, Instagram captions, and so on are passable without capitalized proper nouns, much less commas, semi-colons, and em-dashes. We’ve started to replace punctuation with emojis, and Progressive Punctuation seems to be offering a middle ground between the two.
So is reintroducing these marks truly progressive? And are they necessary? Does our language need more specific punctuation today, or do we specifically need more punctuation today? Or just a better emoji?