The pilcrow (¶), also called the paragraph mark, paragraph sign, paraph, alinea (Latin: a lineā, "off the line"), or blind P, is a typographical character for individual paragraphs. It is present in Unicode as U+00B6 ¶ PILCROW SIGN (HTML
The pilcrow can be used as an indent for separate paragraphs or to designate a new paragraph in one long piece of copy, as Eric Gill did in his 1930s book, An Essay on Typography. 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 pilcrow is usually drawn similar to a lowercase q reaching from descender to ascender height; the loop can be filled or unfilled. It may also be drawn with the bowl stretching further downwards, resembling a backwards D; this is more often seen in older printing.
Origin and name
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word pilcrow "apparently" originated in English from an unattested version of the French pelagraphe, a corruption of paragraph; the earliest reference is c. 1440. The Oxford Universal Dictionary says it may be from "pulled [plucked] crow," based on its appearance.
The sign itself developed in the late medieval period out of a scribal abbreviation marking a new paragraph or section. It may either have been an abbreviation for Item (i.e. a stylised representation of the letters Jt), or for capitulum (⸿, i.e. representing a C with two vertical strokes.) This C was the paraph symbol that replaced in the function of marking off paragraphs the Greek-style paragraphos, and other symbols including the section sign. Moreover, the paraph also could be marked with a full-height sign similar to ¢ (cents) or with a double slash, originally symbols indicating a note from the scribe to the rubricator.
In academic writing, it is sometimes used as an in-text referencing tool to make reference to a specific paragraph from a document that does not contain page numbers, allowing the reader to find where that particular idea or statistic was sourced. The pilcrow sign followed by a number indicates the paragraph number from the top of the page. It is rarely used when citing books or journal articles.
In proofreading, it indicates that one paragraph should be split into two or more separate paragraphs. The proofreader inserts the pilcrow at the point where a new paragraph should begin.
In some high-church Anglican and Episcopal churches, it is used in the printed order of service to indicate that instructions follow; these indicate when the congregation should stand, sit, and kneel, who participates in various portions of the service, and similar information. King's College, Cambridge uses this convention in the service booklet for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. This is analogous to the writing of these instructions in red in some rubrication conventions.
The pilcrow is used in desktop publishing software such as desktop word processors and page layout programs to mark the presence of a carriage return control character at the end of a paragraph. It is also used as the icon on a toolbar button that shows or hides the pilcrow and similar hidden characters, including tabs, whitespace, and page breaks. In typing programs, it marks a return that one must type.
The pilcrow may indicate a footnote in a convention using a sequence of distinct typographic symbols in sequence to distinguish the footnotes on a given page; it is the sixth in a series of footnote symbols beginning with the asterisk.
The pilcrow character was in the 1984 Multinational Character Set extension of ASCII at xB6 (decimal 182), from where it was inherited by ISO/IEC 8859-1 (1987) and by Unicode as U+00B6 ¶ PILCROW SIGN.
Apart from U+00B6 ¶ PILCROW SIGN (182decimal), Unicode also defines U+204B ⁋ REVERSED PILCROW SIGN (8267decimal) and U+2761 ❡ CURVED STEM PARAGRAPH SIGN ORNAMENT (10081decimal)
- Mac OS: ⌥ Opt+7
- Vim, in insert mode: Ctrl+K PI
- Windows Alt code: Alt+0182 or Alt+20 (on numeric keypad). Depending on the font used, this character varies in appearance, and in some cases, may be replaced by an alternate glyph entirely.
- X Window System, with a compose key: Compose, ⇧ Shift+P, ⇧ Shift+P
- Mobile devices, including tablets, may require additional software (e.g. Cymbol for iPad). Tools may be required to easily generate a pilcrow, or other special characters.
Paragraph signs in non-Latin writing systems
In Chinese, the traditional paragraph sign (rendered as 〇) is a thin circle about the same size as a Chinese character. This same mark also serves as a “zero” character, as a stylistic variation of the Chinese character for “zero”. As a paragraph sign, this mark only appears in older books, commonly found in the Chinese Union Version of the Bible. Its current use is generally as a “zero” character. However, it can also be found in some editions of the King James Bible and the Book of Mormon.
In Sanskrit and other Indian languages, text blocks used to be written in stanzas. Two bars || represented a pilcrow.
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