More praise for punctuation

Photo Courtesy of orangebrompton on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/31153174@N00/4294873069/

Photo Courtesy of orangebrompton on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/31153174@N00/4294873069/

I celebrate a well-placed comma and a properly used apostrophe.

Punctuation makes reading and comprehending so much easier than it was in the time of Socrates. Pity him, for he had to endure Greek texts written in scriptio continua. His scrolls looked something like this:

GOPLACIDLYAMIDTHENOISEANDHASTEANDREMEMBERWHATPE
ACETHEREMAYBEINSILENCEASFARASPOSSIBLEWITHOUTSUR
RENDERBEONGOODTERMSWITHALLPERSONSSPEAKYOURTRUTH
QUIETLYANDCLEARLYANDLISTENTOOTHERSEVENTHEDULLAN
DIGNORANTTHEYTOOHAVETHEIRSTORYAVOIDLOUDANDAGGRE
SSIVEPERSONSTHEYAREVEXATIONSTOTHESPIRITIFYOUCOM
PAREYOURSELFWITHOTHERSYOUMAYBECOMEVAINANDBITTER
FORALWAYSTHEREWILLBEGREATERANDLESSERPERSONSTHAN
YOURSELF

(from The Desiderata —© Max Ehrmann 1927)

I send gratitude, then, to Aristophanes of Byzantium, the director of the Library of Alexandria around 200 BCE, who decided to make his life easier by inserting dots at the end of sentences. Thank you for the period, Aristophanes of Byzantium! (Source: Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer)

People seemed content with a period for some time. Hundreds of years later, spacing and varying types of punctuation finally entered, one by one, into our written language.

We now have commas, exclamation marks, question marks, ellipses, colons, semi-colons, hyphens, interrobangs, and sarkmarks. All those punctuation choices create different kinds of comprehension problems.  Lynn Truss made the dilemma of the serial comma famous through her book title Eats, Shoots, & Leaves. The “Let’s eat, grandma” and “Let’s eat grandma” photo circulates through our social media feeds.

Lets-eat-grandmaI edit a newsletter for our church. Someone saved me from myself when they corrected an error in a title for an upcoming event. The corrected version read “Struggling Toward Christmas” Lunch, Sunday at noon.” My original version had the poor people fighting and thrashing their way toward food when I left out the quotation marks: Struggling Toward Christmas Lunch.

Oops.

Possessive apostrophes and commas create the most problems, but in most cases, we roll with the errors and have a good laugh. (Unless someone really is planning on cooking up grandma.) Every once in a while, though, it costs big bucks. Rogers Communications found this out when a comma cost them a million dollars.

So, I celebrate the curious squiggles, lines, and dots we pepper through our writing. They make life so much easier, and entertaining, no matter where we find them.

Photo courtesy of Vicky Somma on Flickr

Photo courtesy of Vicky Somma on Flickr


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About Arlene Somerton Smith

Writer, laughing thinker, miner of inspirational insights, sports fan, and community volunteer

Posted on November 22, 2013, in Inspiration, writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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