November 21, 2011 at 12:28 PM

A rant about dots and dashes.

The Way I See Things # 7

"Punctuation? We don’t need no stinkin’ punctuation!"

By Eric Davis

The Way I See Things

Eric Davis is rebel, a renaissance man, a racounteur, and a philosopher of little or no consequence.

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With apologies to our proofreader.

OK, the boss, El Jefe Grande, recently expressed to me that some of the Loyal Readers of this blog are confused about my unconventional grammar, capitalization, and most especially punctuation.  He went as far as to insinuate that some of you actually complained.  Really????  In a state where your typical high school graduate is barely literate, YOU are going to complain about ME and how I write?  This HAS to be a joke.

I’m certainly not the authority on the English language, (although it is my native tongue), but I have been a writer (PAID writer, mind you) for a number of years, (articles, scripts, advertising copy, etc.), and if any of YOU have ever FINISHED a New York Times Sunday Crossword puzzle (in INK), then MAYBE you’re qualified to debate it with me.  

According to Wikipedia: “Punctuation developed dramatically when large numbers of copies of the Christian Bible started to be produced. These were designed to be read aloud and the copyists began to introduce a range of marks to aid the reader, including indentation, various punctuation marks and an early version of initial capitals.”

To further clarify (for my punctuation-challenged readers), a colon is more than a section of your excretory system and a semi-colon is NOT a trucker’s affliction.  A period is more than a time out from your ladyfriend.  A comma is NOT a sleep that you have problems waking up from. (We’ll address my habit of ending sentences with a preposition at a later date).  These are all punctuation marks, as are parentheses, quotation marks, exclamation points, hypens, brackets and interrobangs (leave it alone).

I’ll be the first person to admit that my two favorite punctuation marks – the ellipsis and the em dash – are overused in my writings.  But then again, how many of YOU know what either of these are, anyway???  Comment below, and I’ll enlighten you.

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Henry Hitchings addressed punctuation – most specifically the misuse of an apostrophe when pluralizing a noun.  “Puppy’s For Sale” is not the correct usage of that tiny little squiggle – although I’m sure many of you, Loyal Readers, wouldn’t understand what I’m talking about.  As usual.  An apostrophe is most commonly used to indicate a possessive case (Eric’s column); a contraction, (Eric won’t conform); or to pluralize abbreviations (I have many ID’s in my possession).   If you want to read the article (those of you who ARE literate), click here.

The rules of English grammar and punctuation are ever-changing.  Why do you think they print new textbooks?  In the above-referenced article, Mr. Hitchings reminds us that “early manuscripts had no punctuation at all”; and many early punctuation marks are no longer used: virgules, pilcrows, hederae, snarks, (my favorite name of the bunch), and the wonderful point d’ironie.   

He further elaborates:  “… Internet culture generally favors a lighter, more informal style of punctuation. True, emoticons have sprung up to convey nuances of mood and tone. Moreover, typing makes it easy to amplify punctuation: splattering 20 exclamation marks on a page, or using multiple question marks to signify theatrical incredulity. But, overall, punctuation is being renounced.”

That last part makes me sad.  Not because I’m a punctuation snob, but it furthers the dumbing-down of America.  I break grammatical rules all of the time, but I at least KNOW what they are and WHEN I break them.  And (another bad habit of mine – beginning sentences with “and”), without punctuation marks, one of my all-time favorite songs wouldn’t have been written.  Quoting Dan Baird (without punctuating him):  

I love you period

Do you love me question mark

Please, please exclamation point

I want to hold you in parentheses

So I don’t know at this point if El Jefe or one of his minions has emasculated, eviscerated, dismembered, or disemboweled my pearls of wisdom as written, but being cast before the lot of YOU (you know what I mean) as they are, I wouldn’t even expect anyone to know the difference.  But I WILL.  And me and my buddy ?uestlove (how do you like that – punctuation for a name) will deal with it very harshly.  Period!

Future rants will address vocabulary (see previous paragraph, if you know what THAT word means), irony (pay heed Alanis Morisette), Spanglish (don’t get me started), and emoticons (:-)) – along with the use of prepositions to end sentences.

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“Pussycat Doll says ‘What?’” After their recent performance in our town, I had a chance to meet the Pussycat Dolls.  Bringing along a digital recorder in anticipation of this momentous occasion, I asked the girls to record a quick hello to my OTHER boss, Ira Gordon – PD for Radio Free Santa Fe.  Holding the device aloft, I asked for a “Hi Ira” from the assembled ranks of pulchritude. Their reply:  “What????”  Enough said.

Next Time:  How the angel got on top of the Christmas tree.

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