What’s a ‘questolon’?; we’re glad you asked

Five centuries after quotation marks emerged, it’s time for another new form of punctuation.

If you think about the tools we use to write, it’s like a family.

You have your sexy sisters and brothers we call “words.” The often pretentious yet sometimes humble aunts and uncles we call “sentences.” Our recently hatched illegitimate children called “emoticons.” And last, the humble, unassuming and hard-working cousins that are “punctuation.”

We’re constantly adding siblings to our dictionaries: BFF, OMG, LOL, unfriend, bloggable, sexting. And emoticons enable you to express such feelings as delight, anger, embarrassment, innocence and disapproval.

But when was the last time we added a punctuation mark? Based on my research, quotation marks are the most recent addition. Typesetters in the mid-16 th century began using them, but they weren’t widely used until the 17th century. Huh?

In Spring 2009, my writing students and I at the University of Illinois came to a conclusion: We needed a new punctuation element. Sometimes you need a pause between a question and another related statement.

Thus, the questolon was born.

My student, Michael Martin, suggested another name at first: colonquest. But I thought that sounded like a colonoscopy documentary.

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