Archæology

The assorted finds of Artefact Publishing

Punctuated delight

I have kindly been given Lynne Truss’s Eats, shoots & leaves : the zero tolerance approach to punctuation, and am dipping into it in between lengthy stretches trying to finish Red Mars, which isn’t nearly as funny. Try this:

In this chapter I want to examine punctuation as an art. Naturally, therefore, this is where the colon and semicolon waltz together, to a big cheer from all the writers in the audience. Just look at those glamorous punctuation marks twirling in the lights from the glitter‐ball: are they not beautiful? Are they not graceful? Ask professional writers about punctuation and they will not start striking the board about the misuse of the apostrophe; instead they will jabber in a rather breathless manner about the fate of the semicolon. Is it endangered? What will we do if it disappears? Have you noticed that newspapers use it less and less? Save the semicolon! It is essential to our craft! But their strength of attachment is justified. Taking the marks we have examined so far, is there any art involved in using the apostrophe? No. Using the apostrophe correctly is a mere negative proof: it tells the world you are not a thicko. The comma, while less subject to universal rules, is still a utilitarian mark, racing about with its ears back, trying to serve both the sense and the sound of the sentence — and of course wearing itself to a frazzle for a modest bowl of Chum. Using the comma well announces that you have an ear for sense and rhythm, confidence in your style and a proper respect for your reader, but it does not mark you out as a master of your craft.

Good stuff. Of course it’s almost inevitable that there will be a punctuation error somewhere in the book. I have already found a mistake in the text, on page 133, where “question mark” is written when “exclamation mark” is meant.

But what is really sad is that I rather wish the book were also a history of punctuation, with footnotes and digressions into languages and scripts other than English. I don’t think there’s much hope for me, and the dust jacket blurb is surely understating the matter in my case:

If there are only pedants left who care, then so be it. “Sticklers unite” is her rallying cry. “You have nothing to lose but your sense of proportion — and arguably you didn’t have much of that to begin with.”

Posted by jamie on January 4, 2004 10:15+13:00

Comments

Hee - cool. I might have to find a copy to read...

Posted by: Fi on January 8, 2004 00:36+13:00