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Origin of the semicolon

16 October 2015


From Mr Zachary Guiliano

Sir, — Forgive the palaeographic pedantry, but in an otherwise fine salute to an outstanding charity (Comment, 25 September), Peter Graystone expressed a sort of half-truth: that the semicolon was invented by Aldus Manutius in 1494. What we call a semicolon has been in existence since at least the eighth century, in slightly varied forms, depending on the tendencies of individual scribes and their centres of training.

Moreover, different marks with similar functions have been in use since antiquity. At best, Aldus Manutius managed to express in typography what scribes had expressed by hand for many years. This is true of italic founts as well.


St John’s College
Cambridge CB2 1TP

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