"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The pilcrow

The pilcrow (¶), also called the paragraph mark, paragraph sign, paraph, alinea, or blind P, is a typographical character for individual paragraphs.

The pilcrow can be used as an indent for separate paragraphs or to designate a new paragraph in one long piece of copy. The pilcrow was a type of rubrication used in the Middle Ages to mark a new train of thought, before the convention of visually discrete paragraphs was commonplace

The derivation of its name is as complex as its form. It originally comes from the Greek paragraphos(para, “beside” and graphein, “to write”), which led to the Old French paragraph, which evolved into pelagraphe and then pelagreffe. Somehow, the word transformed into the Middle English pylcrafte and eventually became the “pilcrow.”

Excerpt of a page from Villanova, Rudimenta Grammaticæ showing several pilcrow signs in the form common at that time, circa 1500 (image: Wikimedia commons).  

(Thanks to Mish for this word.)


  1. This was most interesting, thank you! I see this sign all the time when I work on documents for my customers, but never really thought about it having its own name and history.

  2. It's a mark i've used when i was in school and editing papers, but i never bothered to look up where it came from. Interesting, indeed.

  3. Good heavens. I don't know why but I was actually quite surprised by that word. It's a breathtaking example of a ... you know where a word sounds like that which it means. Now where have I heard that recently I wonder....

  4. I saw this and thought of you...