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Quest for the Answer Mark Part I:
In the shadow of the Old Kinderhook

Thursday, April 19, 2007   8:18 PM

So the other day a coworker of mine asked, "If there's a question mark, is there also an answer mark?"

"You mean Q-colon and A-colon?" I replied. But no, of course he didn't.

Since I had no work to do, this comment naturally sent me into a flurry of investigation.

First off, there are already at least three notations that, because they are commonly used to dispel doubt, have something of the "answer mark" sense to them without actually being punctuation marks:

The most common is O.K. As explained in the 2000 edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, O.K. is an "abbreviation of oll korrect, slang respelling of all correct." Its utility as a jargon-free markup notation for "this is fine as-is" is probably why one of the folk etymologies for the word attributes its invention to a copy editor.

(Incidentally, this is probably the only English word with a legitimate joke etymology that is more popular than the word blog. The latter comes from we blog, a nonce phrase formed from weblog.)

Less familiar to non-editors are sic, Latin for thus, and stet, from a Latin verb for "to stand."

Sic is used either to prevent the ill-informed from "correcting" something they aren't supposed to or — in printed material — to point out that an apparent mistake is not the editor's fault. Because it isn't just used for internal communication, it often appears in brackets or parentheses: I'm partial to it as [sic].

In my experience, stet is less language-oriented than sic: a layout editor will almost always write stet. Perhaps that's also why it seems like less of a buttal: I'm really not that attached to my ledding and kerning suggestions. Though very similar to sic in meaning, stet is rarely used for evil, unless you count foiling copy editors.

All of these are quick ways to respond to criticism, anticipate a question, what-have-you, and as often-unanalyzed elements of markup notation (I may know what "stet" does, but not what it means) they're quite symbolic, close to what we need.

The search for the answermark continues in "Quest for the Answer Mark Part II: Exclamations and Interrobangs"

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