The craft of pointing, for those who are not familiar with the old and dusty but not quite archaic use of the term, is the business of punctuating your writing. From a work on Latin grammar printed at some time in the early 1500s comes some very useful advice on how to punctuate, in English as well as in Latin. It is useful because it will open up the interpretation of other better known books from the early days of printing. This text comes from the famous collection of Typographical Antiquities by Ames and Herbert as revised by Thomas Frognall Dibdin, which is one of those scholarly names Dr. Boli wishes he had made up.

The original, which is printed without a date or printer’s mark, is written with what strikes a modern reader as eccentric spelling. Dibdin or Herbert or Ames remarks on it: “I suspect that this little volume was printed abroad; there being so foreign an air throughout the whole orthography.” Now, Dr. Boli was a callow youth of less than 30 when this volume of the Dibdin edition was printed in 1812, but even then he could have set Mr. Dibdin right on that score. The dialect is clearly Northern; the marks are obvious—“tway” for “two,” plurals made with “-is” or “-ys” rather than “-s” or “-es,” “theton” and “thetother” for “the one” and “the other.”

For your edification, and your use when interpreting older printed books, Dr. Boli has transcribed the passage in mostly modern spelling, but leaving the punctuation exactly as it was in the original. Note the most important differences from modern punctuation:

1. The virgule or slash is used for a comma.

2. The colon is called “comma” (or “come” in the original).

3. There is no semicolon.

The passage may be found in the original spelling (but with commas instead of virgules) in the second volume of Typographical Antiquities.

Of the craft of pointing.

There be five manner points/ and divisions most used with cunning men: the which/ if they be well used/ make the sentence very light/ and easy to understand both to the reader/ and the hearer/ and they be these: virgule/ comma/ parenthesis/ plain point/ and interrogative.

A virgule is a slender strike: leaning forward thiswise/ betokening a little/ short rest without any perfectness yet of sentence: as between the five points afore rehearsed.

A comma is with tway tittles thiswise: betokening a longer rest: and the sentence yet either is unperfect/ or else/ if it be perfect: there cometh more after/ longing to it: the which more commonly cannot be perfect by itself without at least somewhat of it: that goeth afore.

A parenthesis is with tway crooked virgules: as an old moon/ and a new belly to belly: the which be set the one afore the beginning/ and the other after the later end of a clause: coming within another clause: that may be perfect: though the clause/ so coming between: were away and therefore it is sounded commonly a note lower/ than the outer clause. If the sentence cannot be perfect without the inner clause/ then instead of the first crooked virgule a straight virgule will do very well: and instead of the latter must needs be a comma.

A plain point is with one tittle thiswise. And it cometh after the end of all the whole sentence betokening a long rest.

An interrogative is with tway tittles: the upper rising thiswise? And it cometh after the end of a whole reason: wherein there is some question axed/ the which end of the reason/ trying as it were for an answer: riseth upward.

We have made these rules in English: because they be as profitable/ and necessary to be kept in every mother tongue/ as in Latin. Since we (as we would to God: every preacher would do) have kept our rules both in our English/ and Latin: what need we/ since our own be sufficient enough: to put any other examples.