Sep 16, 2017

Manicule

A manicule is a unique symbol. Literally it takes the form of a hand with an outstretched index figure, gesturing towards a particularly pertinent piece of text or a direction.

Although manicules are still visible today in old signage and retro d├ęcor, their heyday was in medieval and Renaissance Europe.

Despite its centuries-long popularity, the first-ever use of a manicule is surprisingly difficult to find. They were reportedly used in the Domesday Book of 1066, a record of land ownership in England and Wales. Widespread use began around the 12th century. The name comes from the Latin word manicula, meaning little hand, but the punctuation mark has had other synonyms, including bishop’s fist, pointing hand, digit, and fist.

As far as punctuation marks go, the manicule’s function was fairly self-explanatory. Usually drawn in the margin of a page (and sometimes between columns of text or sentences), it was a way for the reader to note a particularly significant paragraph of text. They were essentially the medieval version of a highlighter.

The use and dynamic of manicules changed once books began to be printed. This new technology allowed writers and publishers to highlight what they believed to be significant. The little hands with outstretched finger make it easy to find the key points without re-reading the whole text.

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