Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Punctuation Thoughts

It's National Punctuation Day, and Gawker celebrated by publishing a list of the "most needed" punctuation marks.

Their list:

1 . period

2   space

3 ! exclamation point

4 ; semicolon

5 — em dash

6 " " double quotation marks

7 ' apostrophe

8 ? question mark

9 , comma

10 - hyphen

11 : colon

12 – en dash

13 ( open parenthesis

14 ... ellipsis

15 ) close parenthesis

16 ' ' single quotation marks

17 ] close bracket

18 [ open bracket
A pretty silly list, I'd say. Does anyone really classify the space as punctuation? If so, that's the most important one of all. I agree that the period would be near the top of the list, but after that, I'd go with the question mark and probably the colon. Commas soon after.

Semicolons (number 4!) are, in my opinion, on their way to becoming archaic, and we all know the em dash is way over-used, especially by me, so that's too high on the Gawker list. Not to mention the over-used exclamation point. And can you really separate the open and close parenthesis? How can one be number 13 and the other 15?

The apostrophe also rates pretty highly at number 7, which reminds me of an argument I recently read in favor of getting rid of the apostrophe altogether. While I find some contraction apostrophes essential for intelligibility (we'll/well, I'll/Ill, he'll/hell, she'll/shell), I could be persuaded to go along with getting rid of the possessive use of the curly devil.

And hey, Gawker, what about the slash? You've got the en dash and the square brackets (though not the curvy ones), but you forgot the slash. What century is this?


Crystal said...

I'm still using semicolons and definitely not ready to give up apostrophes, though you're probably right on both. What do you think of the trend toward using single quotation marks instead of double? I see that usage all over social media. Perhaps people think it saves characters (it doesn't), or perhaps they think it doesn't look as formal as double quotes?

Daughter Number Three said...

I still use semicolons on occasion, but don't you think if you had to rank it for importance it would be lower on the list?

I haven't noticed the single quote trend in social media. I probably just thought it was the same misuse I see in folks' copy. The fact that the British use singles and doubles is at the root of it, I think.

I can't tell you how many Americans seem to think "gray" is spelled with an "e."

Daughter Number Three said...

This is similar to my earlier post on spelling reform. It would be hard for me to get used to English without apostrophes, but I can definitely read it without much problem and so could get used to it.

I don't think it's inherently bad to simplify our writing system.

Pete Hautman said...

And how do you feel about the paragraph indent being replaced by a double line space?

Daughter Number Three said...

I prefer paragraph indents, but after years of setting text for clients, they've worn me down to the point where don't mind using an additional line to differentiate paragraphs. (Though it's unacceptable in books.)

What I hate is the cases where the client insists on both an extra line and an indent.

David Steinlicht said...

Perhaps @ and # could be added to the list. Are those punctuation? They are very popular on the internet.

Michael Leddy said...

That list seems deliberately odd and arbitrary — so as to provoke comment?

I’d put the comma much higher. I find that the more I write, the less I use the semicolon.

William Faulkner omitted the apostrophe from ain’t and don’t and a few other words. Some linguists regard the apostrophe as a matter of spelling not punctuation, but tell that to the typical writing handbook.