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Thursday, 24 February 2005
The Importance of Punctuation
Topic: Miscellanea

Written language is nothing without punctuation. I like punctuation - it adds a punch(!) to the written word. (Perhaps I overdo it?) I once learnt an extremely humbling lesson: I was involved in the production of a Newsletter for a club I belonged to. When articles were handed in, I typed them out ready for printing and, at the same time, took the liberty of correcting the few grammar and spelling errors I spotted. Although, I must admit that my own spelling is far from perfect (I always have to look in the freezer when I want to add `broccoli' to the shopping list!).

One day, an article was handed in: it was really awful - yet, had the author read it aloud, it would have been very good. It was written in pencil, there were no capital letters for proper nouns, the spelling was another language (he was obviously dyslexic) and, even though he was quoting speech, punctuation was completely non-existent. I got to work. First, I corrected the spelling and the grammar. Then, without changing the order of his words, I inserted punctuation - lots and lots of it! I was very pleased with the result - it was as it would have been had the author read it aloud. With my extreme self-conceit, I'm afraid it didn't even occur to me that my `improvements' might embarrass him or land him in deep water. Well, that is just what happened - I landed him in deep water, very deep water.

At the next club meeting, nominations were invited for committee members. "Simon," (name changed) "Your article in the Newsletter was excellent. Absolutely, top class! How about taking on the position of Press Officer?" I cringed in my seat; what had I done? The poor chap, not knowing what to say, accepted the job. I don't think he lasted in the position very long and, certainly, I could never look him in the eye again!

That story apart, it seems that the use of punctuation on the Internet, particularly on personal websites and Blogs, is on the decline. Well, most people use the full stop, the comma and question marks, but colons and semi-colons are used less and less and apostrophes hardly at all - especially the ones used to denote the omission of a letter. That leads to errors of grammar such as the note once left in my old office: "Will someone whose here tomorrow please ring ..." instead of "Will someone who's here tomorrow ...". Even the use of capital letters seems to be going out of fashion, particularly in Blogs, with 'i' instead of 'I' ( I'm sorry, but I do find that really ugly).

Do you use punctuation marks? They really do add so much to the meaning of phrases and sentences. Have you ever thought that what you meant to say, and thought you were writing down, just might be interpreted by your reader as something quite different - just because of your punctuation or lack of it?

Here is a slightly tongue in cheek example of the effect of punctuation, which I found on the Internet. Have a go at punctuating it:

dear john i want a man who knows what love is all about you are generous kind thoughtful people who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior you have ruined me for other men i yearn for you i have no feelings whatsoever when were apart i can be forever happy will you let me be yours gloria
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Posted by Noviomagus at 11:35 GMT Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink

Saturday, 26 February 2005 - 17:45 GMT

Name: doubledog

"Modern" punctuation reminds me that as a college girl long ago, I minored in ancient Greek. It was all very well to read Homer et al in our textbooks. However, in my fourth year, we graduated to copies of ancient texts as they originally appeared. Horrors! There was no capitalization, no punctuation, no rhyme nor reason to the division of words needing to be finished on the next line, and NO SPACES BETWEEN WORDS/SENTENCES/PARAGRAPHS!!!!!! We seem headed thousands of years into the past.

Sunday, 27 February 2005 - 00:13 GMT

Name: Tessa

Hello Doubledog,

Thank you so much for commenting on my entry about punctuation. I can't imagine reading any textbook without spaces between words, sentences and paragraphs. It would be exhausting trying to make sense of it, as you doubtless know well! Perhaps that's why the Greeks were so clever - they had to think hard about their choice of words and concentrate even harder when they read anything.

I believe that some ancient scripts, such as ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, used some signs as phonograms for consonents only and that, sometimes, the same sign was used as an ideogram to denote something very different. No wonder only a few highly regarded scribes ever mastered the technique. Imagine removing all the vowels from a modern book - would anyone ever bother to read for pleasure!

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