Punctuation – From the Latin ‘to prick’

Punctuation: The use of spacing, conventional signs, and certain typographical devices as aids to the understanding and the correct reading.

Punctuation is very important in the English language, but where does the word ‘punctuate’ come from?

The first recorded usage that we have is from the 1530s, where it was used to describe the punctuation of psalms; a part of the christian bible. It was a word which had been borrowed from Latin, the Latin word ‘punctuationem’ sounds like something you might read in Harry Potter, but was the Latin word for the marks that were used to make sense of their written laws. It was kind of a code which meant that the person reading them should understand them in the way they were meant by the writer, limiting variety of the way the laws were interpreted; imagine stealing an apple and finding out the punishment was death because the reader mixed it up with the previous line about punishing people for adultery. ‘Punctuationem’ was itself derived from the earlier Latin word ‘punctus’ which meant ‘to prick’.


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