"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

An unholy gospel of punctuation, chapter 2

Nothing is sacred or holy about punctuation. Matter of fact, as my youngest son Derrick gigged on Facebook after yesterday's sermon, those  "other" gospels (and the rest of the New Testament), were written in Greek without any punctuation at all.
Makes you wonder who decided to put the punctuation in, doesn't it, since punctuation can change meaning? Obviously though, it wasn't God.
So punctuation is only a man-made tool to help clarify written language. Here are some more guidelines, generally accepted, for its use in American English, from this repentant old English major.

  • Period--Use lots of them. (Short sentences). And after abbreviations. But don't put a period after an abbreviation when it concludes a sentence, as He moved to Washington, D.C..
  • Question mark--Perhaps the easiest one, at the end of a question. Understand? Only difficulty is with quotation marks. See that item from yesterday, ok? And never use more than one. It’s immature.  Got it????????
  • Semi-colons--Avoid because they make for long sentences. Usually break something into shorter sentences for better readability. Use only in a series for clarity when commas are used: He went to Bugtussle, Oklahoma; Dimebox, Texas; and Hell, Michigan.
  • Ellipses--Avoid (…), even when cutting quotes, because people distrust them and think you're leaving out stuff you don't agree with, or are taking out of context. You can choose parts of quotes to use and as long as you don’t change context, there’s no harm: “I’m going to resign tomorrow,” said Superintendent Jones, at the end of a speech on embezzlement.
  • Dashes--Use with caution, when a comma or period won't do, or for emphasis. I am partial to these, for emphasis instead of an appositive, but still be careful. Also useful as I have done in this article—for lists.
  • The virgule (slash). My last mentor and friend Dr. Harry Heath hated this sign as in and/or, or his/her. Again, try to write around it.
  • Parentheses. Don't use them, unless you're William Faulkner (Or are Clark writing this sermon on punctuation and he’s already used them several times for clarity).  (See?)  They are stop signs for readers and interrupt the flow of reading. They make for long complicated reading. Make another sentence, or a compound sentence, linked with "and" or but." (But avoid most compound sentences, like parentheses). 
Revelation? I hope these sentences are. Again, always ask yourself if you have a question about punctuation, “Why do I need this?” or “Why am I using this?” 

Hear the word of Clark. Remember this mantra, religiously:
Most punctuation and grammatical problems can be cured with short sentences.

(Hey, if you enjoyed it, please tweet it in the space on the left sidebar. Help convert the masses.)

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Terry! I must admit to being partial to dashes, too. Most of my mistakes, in writing, usually occur with the semi-colon. Do you remember my poem, Syntax?

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