Posts Tagged ‘punctuation’
source: Flickr/Tom Magliery.
I’ve noticed that I use semicolons a lot. That punctuational rut is partly a consequence of the years I spent in grad school reading the Victorian Sages (Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, William Morris), who were capable of raging on in pages-long, semicolon-studded sentences about the evils of the Industrial Revolution. But there’s more to it than that. The semicolon is my psychological metaphor, my mascot. It’s the punctuation mark that qualifies, hesitates, and ties together ideas and parts of a life that shot off in different directions. I come from a world where most people still don’t read or hear what I have to say about books because they are oblivious to or downright suspicious of NPR, The New York Times, and all the other educated, upper-middle-class outlets where popular conversations about literature and culture take place; I now spend most of my time in a world where most people know who Stanley Fish is but have only the haziest notion of (and are even less interest in) what a shop steward does.
- Author, professor, and NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan
[To T. E. Lawrence, on Seven Pillars of Wisdom:] You practically do not use semicolons at all. This is a symptom of mental defectiveness, probably induced by camp life.
- George Bernard Shaw
More lexicographical love at “Writers’ Favorite Punctuation Marks.”
Feeling syntactically savvy? Take the Obscure Punctuation Quiz…
* “I’m tired of wasting letters when punctuation will do, period.” – Steve Martin
As we pledge ourselves to punctiliousness, we might spare a thought for Sarah Winnemucca; she died on this date in 1891 (as attested here, though some other sources give October 17). The daughter of Chief Winnemucca of the Northern Paiute people, and originally known by her Paiute name, Thocmetony (Shell Flower), Sarah was educated in the homes of U.S. Army officers who befriended her family. She became a prominent Native American activist and educator, and was the first Native American woman to secure a copyright and to publish in the English language (an autobiographical book, Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, that tells of her people’s experiences during their first forty years of contact with white explorers and settlers– and that employs the full range of punctuation marks).
“They still believe in God, the family, angels, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other obsolete stuff”*…
“Just because you’re excited about something doesn’t mean you have to end the sentence”
The Interrobang, the Asterism, and a dozen other curious connectors at BuzzFeed’s “14 Punctuation Marks That You Never Knew Existed.”
* Isaac Bashevis Singer
As we resist coming to a full stop, we might send silent birthday wishes to Adolph (later Arthur) “Harpo” Marx; he was born on this date in 1888. Harpo’s signature style, he recalls in his autobiography, was born after reading a review of one of the earliest performances he did with his brothers; it read, in part: “Adolph Marx performed beautiful pantomime which was ruined whenever he spoke.” Thereafter, of course, it was all whistles and horns…
And mallets: Harpo was inducted into the Croquet Hall of Fame in 1979.
The Oxford Comma– AKA, the final serial comma– has come in for some harsh criticism. Indeed recently, the storied punctuation mark suffered the ugliest of indignities: the “Writing and Style Guide” in Oxford University’s own “Branding Handbook” (the internal guide to usage meant to be consistent across all University publications) instructed: “As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write ‘a, b and c’ not ‘a, b, and c’.”
The Prose Police did carve out an exception: “when a comma would assist in the meaning of the sentence or helps to resolve ambiguity, it can be used…”
Good thing too. Language Log demonstrates with examples both hypothetical:
Your correspondent operates, as readers may have noticed, on the compositional principal “better safe than sorry”…
As we disagree with Vampire Weekend, we might recall another example of linguistic mutability: it was on this date in 1966 that Jimmy Hendrix changed his name to Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix had a good bit of Experience, if readers will forgive the pun, with name changes… He born was Johnny Allen Hendrix, but his father changed his name to James Marshall Hendrix (in honor of the father’s dead brother). Hendrix performed as a sideman as “Maurice James”; he led his pre-fame band, The Blue Flames, as “Jimmy James”; and when confronted with confusion of having two Randys in the group– Guitarist Randy Wolf and bassist Randy Palmer, he dubbed the latter “Randy Texas.” The former, anointed by Hendrix as “Randy California,” later joined his step-father Ed Cassidy to form Spirit.
Like the ampersand, the “@” symbol is not strictly a mark of punctuation; rather, it is a logogram or grammalogue, a shorthand for the word “at.” Even so, it is as much a staple of modern communication as the semicolon or exclamation mark, punctuating email addresses and announcing Twitter usernames. Unlike the ampersand, though, whose journey to the top took two millennia of steady perseverance, the at symbol’s current fame is quite accidental. It can, in fact, be traced to the single stroke of a key made almost exactly four decades ago*…
The whole story is @ Shady Characters (“The Secret Life of Punctuation”).
* Before it became the domain address marker– and the overall symbol– for email, “@” was used to denote the unit price (or weight) of an item: 10 books @ $1.00 would total $10.00… the symbol is believed to have originated with medieval scribes who used the symbol to eliminate the two extra pen strokes that would have been necessary to write “at.”
As we check our spam filters, we might recall that it was on this date in 1958, in reaction to the Soviet’s Sputnik success the prior year, that Congress passed the legislation establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)… the Space Race was on. (ARPA [now DARPA]– the sponsor of the work that spawned the internet and birthed the “@” in the form in which we all now use it– was born the same year out of the same concern over Soviet scientific progress.)
In his blog Making Light, under the headline “The return of the final serial comma’s vital necessity,” Patrick Nielsen Hayden reproduces this clipping from the July 21 edition of the Los Angeles Times:
As Michael Quinion observes in World Wide Words, it’s reminiscent of the famous [but apocryphal] book dedication, “To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”
As we recommit ourselves to curly clarity, we might recall that on this date in 1897 the first free-standing Library of Congress– the Jefferson Building– opened its doors to the public. The Library had until then been housed in the Congressional Reading Room in the U.S. Capitol.
The Jefferson Building under construction (source)