Wednesday, 24 September 2008

national punctuation day

In honour of National Punctuation Day, let me quote Dennis Baron:

As for punctuation, no one ever agrees where the commas go anyway, and it probably doesn’t matter. Punctuation has always changed with fashion, location, and context, a fact of language history which angers everyone who wants the rules of writing to remain both as constant as the ten commandments, and violated a lot less frequently.

One reason for its instability is the fact that no one ever agrees what punctuation is for. Sometimes it indicates pauses, sometimes syntactic units. Sometimes it’s deleted for aesthetic reasons, and sometimes writers pepper their prose with punctuation in the hopes that some of their commas and semicolons will hit the target. When punctuation becomes dysfunctional, we drop it. When we need new punctuation marks, we invent them.


Glen Gordon said...

I have a sweet spot for the semicolon personally;

Kalleh said...

My boss is a clear prescriptivist. She lives by Lynne Truss, if you can believe it. It confuses me, therefore, to read her papers. She sticks in commas all over the place. Lynne would have a stroke! Therefore, I've concluded that prescriptivism has nothing to do with a knowledge of language. It has everything to do with power and telling others they are wrong.