Visual Rhetoric : )

What happens to a punctuation mark that transforms into a representation of a pair of eyes or a smiling mouth? Is it still a punctuation mark, or is it a sign of a different kind?

Let’s examine a colon that signifies a pair of eyes and a curved bracket that signifies a smiling mouth. Noticeably, as representations of eyes and mouth, the colon and bracket become facial features of a horizontal head. However, like punctuation marks, their verticality still aligns with the verticality of the letters, that seem to stand or sit straight in their line (Fig. 1). The fact that the colon and the bracket are vertical and horizontal at the same time creates a “double paradox:” on the one hand, they align with the verticality of the letters but also with the horizontality of the head; and one the other, they contradict the verticality of the letters but also the horizontality of the head.

: )

Fig. 1. : )

The composition of the eyes and mouth within both the face and the written line is significant as well. For example, when it comes to English, the question of whether the eyes are left to the mouth or vice versa influences the meaning of the verbal-visual phrase. If the eyes are left to the mouth and the whole face is right to the written words, the text and consequently the reading become bidirectional; the words direct the readers’ attention from the left to the right and the face from the right to the left (Fig. 2). Moreover, even if there are no words in that line, the face directs the readers “backward” since the colon and the bracket imply that this is a written environment, within which the readers automatically move from left to right. How would a smiling face look like in, for instance, Hebrew in a way that makes sense (Fig. 3)?

Visual Rhetoric : )

Fig. 2. Visual Rhetoric : )

( : רטוריקה ויזואלית

Fig. 3. Visual Rhetoric : ) in Hebrew

Looking at figure 2 and 3, we could argue that the vicinity of the eyes to the written words implies that the brain that is ostensibly above the eyes has uttered the words; that the owner of the face is the author of the text. Would the vicinity of the mouth to the text imply that the mouth has uttered the text? Would it signify authorship as well? I think that, in English, when the mouth is left to the eyes and the text is left to the face, the face looks like someone who anticipates something; that, from their point of view, there is more to come (Fig. 4).

Visual Rhetoric ( :

Fig. 4. Visual Rhetoric ( :

Finally, the transformation of a punctuation mark into a representation of a facial feature that signifies a specific meaning results from a synchronized transformation of at least two punctuation marks. For example, only the vicinity of the colon to the concave side of the bracket makes the latter a smiling mouth, which, in turn, makes the colon eyes of a smiling face. Without this synchronicity – that happens in space and time – these signs will stay punctuation marks. As such, they will operate only when words or other punctuation marks are on both their sides (Fig. 4).

Visual: Rhetoric (!).

Fig. 4. Visual: Rhetoric (!).

So, when the colon and the bracket signify a pair of eyes and a smiling mouth, are they still punctuation marks or signs of a different kind? It’s hard to tell because after they transform into representations of facial features, they still clarify the meaning of phrases and sentences just as punctuation marks do. Could they be a new kind of punctuation marks? Perhaps, because as our technology and society rapidly change, so do our communicative practices.

This entry was posted in Research. Bookmark the permalink.