Monday, September 20, 2010

National Punctuation Day September 24

Only four more days until National Punctuation Day! Several sources have been reminding us of the approach of this momentous day. My favorite was this entry from a blog called You Don't Say, written by John E. McIntyre, longtime copy editor at the Baltimore Sun. (Beware of copy editors. Until you meet one, you might think you're pretty good at grammar and punctuation. That's like thinking you're pretty good at jousting until you meet Sir Lancelot, or thinking you're pretty good at swimming until you meet Michael Phelps.)

McIntyre litters his column with examples of how to punctuate properly, much as I tried to do in the second-to-last chapter of Lost in Lexicon. ("What!?" you ask indignantly and with too much punctuation. "You didn't try to punctuate correctly throughout the book?" Read McIntyre's column, then read the book, and you'll see what I mean.)

One of the bits of punctuation folly McIntyre inveighs against is the mistaken and unnecessary use of quotation marks for "emphasis." Unfortunately, as McIntyre points out, such quotation marks inadvertently give the impression that the writer means the emphasized word sarcastically. A friend of mine had a mother with this habit. She suffered from the mild and harmless delusion that quotation marks were the same as italics. This was a while ago, when people still wrote letters, and she filled her letters with phrases like the following:

I'm so "happy" to hear you're doing "well."
I "can't wait" to see you at the holidays!
With "love," your Mother.

The founder of National Punctuation Day, Jeff Rubin, teaches punctuation to schoolchildren and spends his spare time photographing egregious punctuation errors. These usually involve signs that unforgivably use apostrophes to make plurals. Or should I say sign's that use apostrophe's to make plural's?

On National Punctuation Day, we all have the opportunity to purge ourselves of such unseemly errors. Check here for suggestions on how to spend the glorious day. Better yet, enter this year's great challenge: write and submit a haiku about punctuation. Here's mine:

You stuffily pause;
you enumerate series;
ah! semicolons.

Okay, okay, I know, but I promise I didn't spend much time on it. See if you can do better.

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