Thursday, September 24, 2009

Happy Punctuation Day!

I had an entry all planned out that would follow along with the themes Samantha and Andrea posted earlier this week, about planning work and organizing ideas. But I think I will hold that thought until next week because I've just discovered that today is:



As authors, punctuation is important to us. Without it, how would we know where a sentence ends? Would we be able to tell the difference between a question and an imperative? And what about all those clauses that have to be strung together somehow?

My personal punctuational nemesis is the comma. I tend to massively over-use them, to the point where I've dubbed myself "the Queen Of Excess Commas." When I was editing my first NaNoWriMo entry, I removed 347 that really weren't needed. (Yes, I kept track.) I'm not sure why I do it, except that I seem to think in more-or-less complete phrases, and of course you need commas after phrases. Don't you? Well, obviously not always.

At least I'm getting better at recognizing them when they happen. Mostly*.

But the placement of a comma can completely change the meaning of a sentence. Consider these musical examples:

No Woman No Cry, by Blues Traveler (on Rhapsody.com)

No Woman No Cry, by Boney M (on Rhapsody.com)

The first is sung as, "No Woman, No Cry"; the second as, "No, Woman No Cry." See the difference?

My other favorite example of how punctuation can change the meaning of a sentence is the (possibly apocryphal) tale of an English professor who wrote the phrase "Woman without her man is nothing" on the chalkboard and asked the class to punctuate it properly. According to the legend, the men responded, "Woman, without her man, is nothing." And the women answered, "Woman! Without her, man is nothing."

Over on her blog, Prose From The Pros, author Bonnie Doran has been discussing quotes from Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. Several of her more recent posts have been about my new favorite punctuation mark (and therefore the one I'm currently trying hardest not to over-use), the semicolon. The semicolon is a useful critter; it's a great way to splice two thoughts together. Each of these thoughts could stand on their own, but together they're stronger. Which is great until I look at a paragraph I've just written and discover that all three sentences contain a semicolon!

What are your favorite punctuation marks? Which ones do you find yourself over- and under-using?

And who's planning to go home tonight and bake a meatloaf in the shape of a question mark?


(* Excess commas removed from this post before sending: 5)

2 comments:

Andrea said...

Happy Punctuation Day! I love the comma too.

Katie said...

Boy oh boy, I am so glad you posted this! I was thinking of doing some kind of grammatical/punctuation entries periodically. Call it the geek English teacher in me.