Yesterday’s whimsy about National Punctuation Day prompted a disappointed comment from our loyal reader Bucky that I had neglected to include the virgule. The sentiment is apparently shared at Language Log, which sprang to the defense of this humble slash.
I meant no disrespect. The virgule has a noble pedigree, appearing, for example, in the title of Kierkegaard’s Either/Or. We use it to indicate line breaks when poetry is quoted in ordinary text. It has a number of specialized uses, including a function in Web addresses.
But, as yesterday’s post indicated, I was limiting myself to the standard punctuation marks. Had I included the more specialized ones, I would have labored to get in the ampersand (&), dollar sign ($), asterisk (*), octothorpe (#) and others, with predictable consequences for the intelligibility of the post. Editing — self-editing — is always a set of choices about what to include and what to exclude.
Still, I would be the last to deny the virgule its place in the sun.