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Percontation

23 Sep 2018

 

The percontation point, ⸮, is an obscure item of punctuation proposed in the late 1500s by the English printer Henry Denham. His plan, as we posted on Twitter, was to use a reversed question mark, ⸮, to indicate that a question was rhetorical and so didn’t require an answer.

 

The word percontation itself can be used in English to refer to a question or inquiry that by its nature demands more than a yes or no answer. Etymologically, it comes from a Latin verb, percontare, literally meaning “to interrogate”. But it in turn is built from two etymological building blocks: per, meaning “thoroughly” or “extremely” (as in perfervid), and contus, a Latin word for a boat-pole or punt (in the sense of a tool that can be used to probe or assess the depth or nature of something otherwise unknowable). 

 

The percontation point, ultimately, is a symbol of a question’s probing, thought-provoking content. 

 

But why did Denham’s idea not catch on⸮ Alas, that is a question that will just have to remain unanswered... 

 

 

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