Wednesday, July 3, 2013

THE POWER OF PUNCTUATION

I am a dash person.

I sprinkle dashes where others might prefer commas.

Sometimes that comma is just not making enough pause for me. Sometimes the comma is not connecting the thoughts in just the way I would like--or that semi-colon is separating far too much--that's when the dash comes to my rescue.

What is your favorite punctuation mark-- your personal punctuation style?

Punctuation really does matter.

While in the Grand Cayman Islands a few years ago, reading that big hardback "local flavor" book that is always on the hotel room table,  I came across this  item.
An English professor wrote the words, "Woman without her man is nothing" on the blackboard and directed his students to punctuate them properly.
The men wrote, "Woman, without her man, is nothing."
The women wrote,"Woman! Without her, man is nothing."

Commas, and periods (and even capital letters) make all the difference. 

Punctuation adds a layer of meaning to our words, enabling us to express our ideas and feelings specifically and exactly as we mean---or changing our meanings in ways we may not  intend.

In Writing Toward Home, Georgia Heard describes punctuation as spice:


Punctuation adds texture to language. It's like feeling a fine handmade cloth with our eyes closed; we feel the nap, the bumps, the weave...punctuation becomes part of what we're trying to say...Each punctuation mark is a spice.  Spices added to food can make the difference between a bland dish and a delicious one. (127-128)


With many of our social media sites and messaging tools limiting the number of characters we may use, punctuation, and capital letters, as well, sometimes become socially significant.

We all know that using all caps is considered rude--IT SIGNIFIES  SHOUTING!

But lack of capitals may also signify a social faux pas or intentional disrespect.  

Scott Warnock notes how the daughter of a friend was upset because someone had disrespected her on Facebook by posting: "happy birthday."  He goes on to explain the  "rules" under which this young person was operating,  in which each capital (or lack thereof) and punctuation mark carried social value.  Click here to read his full article, "Punktuation" at When Falls the Coliseum.

In the16th or 17th century  puzzle poem, I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tale posted on the Power of Babel blog, we easily see how punctuation makes the difference  between realism and   fantasy, in this poem of vivid images. 

Illustrator Ramsingh Urveti has created a magnificently unique and beautiful book of this famous poem, including cutouts that add to the puzzle quotient and provides hours of delightful fun deciphering the many layers of meaning. Click here to view this masterpiece.

There are numerous  grammar and style books that provide us with traditional rules and usage guidelines for punctuation, capital letters, and more. A quick search on the Internet will turn up many.  One site on which I I rely for quick reference is The Purdue Online Writing Lab or OWL.  Here you can easily locate that needed punctuation rule or  the answer to any other language related question.


One book , Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance to Punctuation Approach by Lynne Truss, stands out, however,  for its humor and many examples of what not to do.

Click here to read  or listen to an interview with Truss and also read her  famous panda example of misplaced punctuation that  provides the title for the book.

She also has written similar books for young folks.
There are  several additional books that introduce punctuation or support young folks as they explore its  functions.


Robin Pulver, in Punctuation Takes a Vacation, writes of the unfortunate things  that happen when all of the punctuation marks take a vacation, leaving words to a disorganized and funny mess. Once they return, normalcy is restored.  A list of punctuation rules is included in the back of the book.


 In Punctuation Celebration,  Elsa Knight Bruno celebrates the power of each punctuation mark with a 14 poems that instruct and illustrate the way each punctuation mark is used.



And my newest punctuation find for young people is Exclamation Mark! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.  A young exclamation mark comes into his own-- discovering how he fits in with the other marks and his own powerful function.




What is your favorite punctuation mark?
Do you know the power of punctuation?


 Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities


Consider a piece that you have previously written.  What punctuation marks seem to dominate your writing in this piece?

You may want to write an exploratory essay considering your punctuation choices.

Select one particular punctuation mark and write an essay about its importance.  You may include specific examples of how it is used, its purposes, what happens when it is misused.

Can you write a rhyming verse about this same punctuation mark?

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