Excursions

by Amit Gawande

This, That and A Lot on Punctuation

“I found a great many pieces of punctuation and typography lying around dormant when I came along - and I must say I had a good time using them.” – Tom Wolfe

A lot has been said and suggested by authors, amateur and experienced, on how we should and should not use punctuation. Setting aside the perpetual debates around specific punctuation marks, the importance of punctuation in making writing intelligible for a reader is never in doubt.

This issue features essays that provide a brief history of how punctuation evolved, its significance, some valuable tips and witty guidelines on using the marks.


Featured Writing

The Definition and Basic Rules of Punctuation

Richard Nordquist at ThoughtCo. takes us deep into the meaning and importance of punctuation. More than being an essay about brief on punctuation, it details the history of punctuation, its relevance before and after the introduction of printing, and the recent trends in the use of punctuation. Dr. Nordquist has it all covered.

The beginnings of punctuation lie in classical rhetoric—the art of oratory. Back in ancient Greece and Rome, when a speech was prepared in writing, marks were used to indicate where—and for how long — a speaker should pause. Until the 18th century, punctuation was primarily related to spoken delivery (elocution), and the marks were interpreted as pauses that could be counted out.

The Comma From Which My Heart Hangs

Benjamin Samuel at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency describes the great power comma possesses in our writing. Backing his argument with some pertinent examples, he delivers his point with an abundance of wit and tinge of humor that is a signature of every article at McSweeney’s.

If nothing else, one ought to know how to treat a comma. Abandonment or abuse of the comma muddles discourse, and this lack of respect is akin to neglect, to a lack of appreciation, to an unreasonable rejection of the very foundation of all worthy human interactions. (…) It simply cannot be said too often that punctuation, not just the noble comma, is crucial to communication and comprehension. Truly, a poorly constructed sentence can set worlds crumbling, can alter perceptions irreparably.

Tips on Grammar, Punctuation and Style

“If the rules you learned about commas and semi-colons don’t mean much to you, forget them and try this.” That is how Kim Cooper begins this helpful guide on punctuation published for Writing Center at Harvard University. This is a handy list of suggestions on how one can check the selection of punctuation like commas and semi-colons, dashes and hyphens as part of her writing.

If you don’t want your reader to pause, there shouldn’t be a comma, there, because as, this demonstrates it’s very difficult to figure, out, what you’re saying when your punctuation, makes the sentence unreadable. Your sentences shouldn’t leave your reader hyperventilating from the constant shallow breaths that over-punctuation requires. Nor should they be gasping for breath at the end of a long, unpunctuated sentence. (Consider yourself responsible for your readers’ cardiovascular health.)


Featured Video


Featured Writer

Caleb Tankersley

Caleb published a dark short story “Swarm Creatures” as part of Carve magazine’s Summer 2020 edition. He has woven the story wonderfully with some intricate, mysterious elements. With his vivid imagination and a fascinating way to word it, he very beautifully mirrors the darkness and the messy calmness of the swarm with mind within the central character.

The swamp is impressive, a gargling pool stretching as far as we can see from our backyard, tall ghostly trees sticking out of it and obscuring the horizon. We’ve been renting the same house two years but never explore too far back, some sense of reverence holding us.


Featured Tool

The Punctuation Guide

This is a pretty comprehensive guide to punctuation, though primarily focused on the current style of American punctuation, meticulously created by Jordan Penn. It also has clear examples of how American style differs from the British style. In Jordan’s words, he “consulted dozens of authorities, both online and in print. Where the authorities disagree, I either have explained the various positions or have presented the style I believe to be most useful”. This should be a pretty handy reference guide for anyone writing at any level.


One Final Inspiration


Postscript

This post was delivered first as part of my weekly newsletter Slanting Nib & A Keyboard. Do read the archives and subscribe here.