It’s National Punctuation Day

Posted on Categories Legal Writing

SemicolonToday is National Punctuation Day.  Yes, there really is such a day (it’s the sixth annual one, actually), and grammar geeks like me are celebrating.  There’s even a national baking contest where contestants are supposed to bake something in the shape of a punctuation mark.

Lynne Truss, the author of the best-selling book Eats, Shoots & Leaves:  The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, says that “[P]unctuation is a courtesy designed to help readers understand a story without stumbling.”  It’s a courtesy that applies not only to stories, of course, but to any written product – letters, articles, memos, briefs, and emails.  Punctuation clarifies the writer’s meaning.  Take these seven words:  A woman without her man is nothing.  There are two very different readings of this sentence, depending on how it is punctuated.  It could be:  A woman, without her man, is nothing.  Or it could be:  A woman:  without her, man is nothing.  What a difference punctuation makes!

What’s your favorite punctuation mark?

13 thoughts on “It’s National Punctuation Day”

  1. I like a well-placed comma. It truly does make a difference in the meaning conveyed by the sentence. I can’t stand when writers use commas just for the sake of throwing punctuation in a sentence (because often the extra commas make it gramatically incorrect)! I also like en-dashes instead of hypens for page ranges.

  2. Isnt it time we brought back the interrobang!?!?. If I had an interrobang key on my laptop like the one on my old 1968 Remington typewriter, I wouldnt have had to use four punctuation marks to end my first sentence. Who decided that it was to go the way of Esperanto? What do you mean, fad?

  3. Not quite a complete sentence, but I could see this as a headline or a heading:

    A woman without–her man is nothing.

  4. Prof. Hylton, you can find an interrobang in Microsoft Word’s Fonts. Go to Format, choose Fonts, then Wingdings 2. Hit the ~ key. There’s your interrobang.

  5. One of the things I found most interesting in Eats, Shoots & Leaves was the story of Aldus Manutius the Elder. Lynn Truss says that his “heroic status . . . among historians of the printed word cannot be overstated. Who invented the italic typeface? Aldus Manutius! Who printed the first semicolon? Aldus Manutius! The rise of printing in the 14th and 15th centuries meant that a standard system of punctuation was urgently required, and Aldus Manutius was the man to do it.” p. 77.

    I like the semicolon; I still remember the excitement of first learning about how to connect two independent clauses with it.

  6. I’m a little late, but I like the tight, no-spaces ellipsis: …
    Not the Bluebook ellipsis: . . .

    The regular ellipsis signifies an omission, a skipping, and, in colloquial use, a trailing off.

    The Bluebook ellipsis just reminds me of “Sweet Transvestite” from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. “I see you shiver with antici . . . pation.” It’s all wrong.

  7. Scare quotes: they are a means to insert voice and tone; they can create just the right rhetorical interpretation, and they open the door for multiple interpretations and discussions that allow one to “wallow in the complexity” (Allen Bacon Guide to Writing) of all that is human.

    If these are the kinds of discussion one has in law school, sign me up!

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