“Whether you like it or not, you’ve got to punctuate.” ~ Karen E. Gordon

You know my love for words, word books and etymology (the study of word origins and roots). You also know I have to pay attention to proper grammar, and so from time to time we have a grammar lesson together.


Today on this Wednesday we will also start to pay attention to punctuation, using Karen E. Gordon’s fun little book The Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1983).

Her “Introduction” includes these great lines:

Reader, I have finished with this little farrago which you are only now about to begin. I have lowered the final period and parentheses into place, have dusted and resharpened my claws. What is a comma but a claw rending the sheet, the asthmatic’s gasp? What is a question mark but what’s needed to complete this thought? Punctuation: what is it, after all, but another way of cutting up time, creating or negating relationships, telling words when to take a rest, when to get on with their relentless stories, when to catch their breath? (And you – you are breathing, are you not, in the same rhythm that creates words?)

We don’t really know who invented the comma, but a typical Roman sentence couldn’t make it with fewer that ten of these metrical incursions which are the tics of prose. The Egyptians had no use for commas (or periods, semicolons, or question marks – and exclamation points were the exclusive domain of priests), but they scratched their ideas and drew them and were not too troubled with sound. Hieroglyphics, it is true, are coming back (see your TV screen or any bathroom wall if you doubt it), but words haven’t died out of the language yet; and whether you like it or not, you’ve got to punctuate. Punctuation marks are a part of the vocabulary of civilization; a misunderstanding can be created or erased by them. Be brave: it is less difficult than you might suppose.

Are you ready to pay attention to punctuation? “Be brave: it is less difficult than you might suppose.” 🙂

Published in: on February 7, 2018 at 6:44 AM  Comments (1)