Miscellany № 96: EPA
14 September 2022 | 1:50 pm

Esteemed Norwegian typefoundry Mono­krom (who, of course, designed the fonts used here at Shady Characters), tweeted a while back about a Unicode character called the “Wiggly Exclamation Mark”. Here’s the relevant snippet of text:

I’d never come across this mark before, and some digging revealed that it came not from the Unicode standard itself but rather a proposal to add characters relating to the so-called “English Phonotypic Alphabet”, or EPA.1 The EPA, in turn, is an English spelling reform that was promoted during the 1840s by Isaac Pitman and Alexander John Ellis. Needless to say, Ellis and Pitman failed to make much of a dent in English’s famously obtuse orthography.2 One need only compare the proposed spellings of words like “hwen” (when), “acsent” (accent) and “menʃun” (mention) with their current forms to see how well it all panned out.

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Museum of London: a Shady Characters field trip
31 July 2022 | 9:41 am

Apologies for the relaxed pace of posts here; I’ve been hard at work on the manuscript for Empire of the Sum, which is currently ping-ponging between New York and Birmingham as my editor helps knock it into shape. There isn’t much time left for writing anything else!

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Miscellany № 95: invention, illumination, and evasion
5 June 2022 | 7:14 pm

Links! It is high time for a few links. Let’s start out with some scholarly appetisers before a good old-fashioned moral panic as dessert.


First up, anthropologist Piers Kelly, writing in the pages of Sapiens magazine, has penned a simple but compelling tale of how the Vai script of Liberia was invented and brought to its modern-day state in less than two centuries. Piers digs into how the accelerated evolution of the Vai script might be used to understand the development of ancient writing systems such as hieroglyphs, cuneiform, and Chinese script. His article is called “What the Vai Script Reveals About the Evolution of Writing”, and it is well worth a read.

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