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According to Keith Houston, the “germ” of the quotation mark is to be found in the “diple (>)” placed by first-century scribes in the margin to indicate a line which contained “some noteworthy text”. Christian scholars used the diple to reveal the presence of that most noteworthy of texts, the Bible, but as their theological disputes became more and more involved they started using it to distinguish their own words from those of their opponents. With the invention of the printing press, compositors began reaching for a pair of commas (“,,”) to indicate quotations, hanging doubled commas in the margin of passages containing quoted text. But in the 18th century, Houston explains, the impetus to standardise the use of quotation marks came from the “drive for realism” shown by authors such as Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding and Samuel Richardson as they experimented with the newest form of literature, the novel.

Eschewing paraphrased, reported speech filtered through a narrator, these new novelists presented readers with their characters’ unvarnished words, and with this new directness came a need to separate speech from narration.

The 1748 edition of Clarissa separated speakers with “dashes or new lines”, but sometimes placed an opening quotation mark “at the exact point at which a quotation began, with a new ‘mark of silence’, or closing quotation mark (“), accompanying it where the quotation ended”. The 1765 edition of Moll Flanders showed changes in speaker with paragraph breaks, “though marginal inverted commas were retained for the occasional sententious quotation”. But by the end of the 18th century, Houston continues, “the growing pains of the double comma were largely past”.


Don’t Be Scared: Dialogue Without Quotation Marks, Richard Lee @ the Guardian.

—Grammar: Quotes


It doesn’t look like much; a wide industrial road rounding the bend on a sun-bleached hill. On one side the road overlooks desiccated orchards and cramped white buildings, and on the other the abandoned curves of rough, mountainous fields. The air is warm, even this high up, and it’s easy to tell how blisteringly hot it would be in summer. The sea isn’t far away, it never is down here – somewhere in some Mediterranean state. Every place this road has passed is an anachronism, a puzzle of time; towns struck dumb by poverty and economic collapse with architecture almost a thousand years old. No one’s got a job good enough to pay the bills, and yet everyone’s got Classical architecture and a phone.

It’s crazy, and no more so than here on this small stretch of nowhere, an arterial route for the cargo lorries that head up to the more self-assured North European markets above. A funny place to find it: a cairn of stones by the wayside, and, still sitting on top despite the many months of sun and gale and the occasional storm; a half rotten-away flip-flop.

To those that don’t know it’s just another discarded piece of litter along the breadcrumb trail of despair that stretches all the way from some hellish military-extremist junta in the even hotter south; a line of the lost that eventually seeds its way into mainland Europe and beyond.

To those that do know, however, it is as close to a holy relic as any one of these washed-up people might have.

The woman ahead stops when she reaches the unlikely shrine, staggers for the briefest moment, dropping to her knees. It’s hard to tell whether it’s from relief or disgust, maybe both. One more push, just one more step and she will have passed this relic of no return. She will be closer to her goal than to her dreadful departures. She crouches on the threshold, perhaps waiting for a sign.

From the woman’s lips just one word escapes;




The UNHCR states that the total number of forcibly displaced peoples in the world is >65 million as of 2015, with >21 million ‘registered’ refugees as of the same year. Numbers vary for the number of migrants and refugees who made the perilous journey to Europe (and continue to do so) from 2014 onwards, but it is safe to assume somewhere around 1-2 million.
Halfway is written as a piece of ‘anthropological fiction’ or perhaps ‘speculative anthropology’ and is  part of a tentative project on the go called ‘Migrant’ – a series of short stories, some anthropological, most sf, based around the themes of travel, belonging, and home. I have some half-thought-out dreams to turn them into a charity chapbook perhaps?

Mudlark: a term used to describe a profession of scavengers, predominantly in London during the Victorian era who would search the river mud at low tide for any items of value.

Grubber: a term for a different type of Victorian London-era scavenger; one who searched the (often open) drain systems for a living.

Tosher: a term from the same era as above, but for those who scavenged the sewers, collecting “tosh” (rubbish); also refers to thieves who dangerously stripped copper from ship’s hulls moored on the Thames.

nb. What I find fascinating about the above is the rediscovery of a scavenging, feral aspect to British society that must have been functionally similar to the slum-occupations of waste-pickers throughout the developing world today. Always a profession for the outcast; in India it is mostly the Dalit’s who occupy these roles, in Latin America these are more predominantly made up of indigenous peoples.

Interesting Others:

“Magsmen” & “Sharpers”: Victorian-era cheats and confidence-men (apparently London was notorious for them).

Cartoneros: A Latin American profession that salvages materials to sell to recycling plants. (Even more interestingly to this writer ~ this is a HUGE small-press publishing movement in Latin America called “Cartonera” which buys cardboard direct from the cartoneros and remakes them into indy books! How cool is that?)


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