Monday, October 06, 2008

Punctuation - Not Just for Puncs!

Last Wednesday I published a post titled Of Big Numbers, Punctuation, and Other Random Stuff in which I mentioned that I'd missed National Punctuation Day on September 24th. In a comment she posted, Amanda suggested I write something about punctuation anyhow, so if this post bores you, you can complain to her.

The act and art of writing probably developed from the drawing of pictures on cave walls, and was created as a way to record speech for posterity. Punctuation developed over time in order to pictorially convey the unspoken pauses and divisions that provide shades of meaning in oral communication. In English, we have settled on thirteen basic punctuation marks:

The Apostrophe '

Brackets [ ]

The Colon :

The Semicolon ;

The Comma ,

The Dash —

The Ellipsis ...

The Exclamation Point !

The Hyphen -

The Parentheses ( )

The Period (or Full Stop) .

The Question Mark ?


Quotation Marks (or Inverted Commas) " "

Different languages use different marks or forms of the marks. For instance, in written Spanish, an inverted exclamation point or question mark appears at the beginning of a sentence which ends with those marks, and in written German, quotation marks sometimes appear below the beginning and above the end of the sentence, rather than both appearing above.

Punctuation marks should not be confused with diacritical marks, which indicate shadings of pronunciation of written letters in many languages. The diacritical marks generally appear above the modified letter, and include:

The Tilde ~

The Circumflex Accent (or Carat) ^

The Acute Accent ´

The Grave Accent `

The Ring ยบ

The Cedilla ,


The Umlaut ..

These lists are not all-inclusive. There are many versions of the lists, and not all agree with each other. And some writers tend to be ... well ... unusual in their use of punctuation. The poet e. e. cummings comes to mind. But this very broad overview will give you a start to what I think is a fascinating topic. Of course, I have a degree in linguistics, so I'm a little biased. Who'd a thunk it?

And you may also find today's post in Strange Maps to be interesting in the context of a discussion of punctuation - it tells the story of a classic April Fool's prank played by The Guardian newspaper in England in which the paper extensively reported on the island nation of "San Serriffe." It's hysterical, and you can read about it here.

And now it's time to pack my lunch and head for work, so let's put a period on today's post.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



Amanda said...

Thank you Bilbo! I knew this was going to be an interesting post (plus a hilarious link to San Serriffe. I've not only learnt about punctuation here, there are also a few new words here for me :)

My favorite new word: Ellipsis.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

The ellipsis is my favorite :)

Melissa B. said...

Great Post! I'm a High School Journalism & English teacher myself, so punctuation has always held my interest. BTW, I've posted something today about the disappearance of the puzzling disappearance Blogstalker, who seems to have evaporated from Cyberspace. I notice that you're on his/her/its blogroll, so thought I'd touch base. Please drop by and weigh in on this mystery!

Mike said...

I thought a cedilla was a bug.

Mike said...

And after looking at my savings today the two most appropriate punctuation marks are the dash and the colon.

Gilahi said...

Since everyone's favorite here seems to be ellipsis, I feel compelled to point out that this is one of those weird words that has the same plural as another word, although it's prounounced differently. The plural of ellipsis is ellipses (e-LIP-seez), and the plural of ellipse is ellipses (e-LIP-sez).

And you were afraid that your blog might be boring. Some things that interest me are better Sominex to most other folks.

rima fauzi said...

im so bad with punctuation, i just don't know what to do with them.

you should write another post that explains the proper use of punctuation marks and diacritical marks. makes it easier for people like me.