Yesterday My 6-year-old granddaughter said something to me with air quotes. The first two small fingers on each of two small hands bobbed twice. I laughed, and she repeated it. I said, “And what does (air quotes)“this“ mean?” She said, “It means I have to say (air quotes) “this” two times.”
Today I received this fw e-mail from a fellow writer:
Subject: Proper Grammar
Those of us who fall into the world of hi-tech should take note of the importance of correct grammar.
You may have noticed that many who text messages & email, have forgotten the “art” of capitalization.
Capitalization is the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse.
You are welcome. I know you appreciate this reminder.
Punctuation funnies fairly falling from on high must be a sign. Time for us to liven things up with a little punctuation excitation. Have I told you the one about the writer who recently turned in 10 pages of changes after the copy editor had removed most (not all, oddly enough) of the commas between independent clauses in compound sentences? That would be me. The line editor agreed, and they all went back in. I cannot sit idly by and watch the compound sentence comma go the way of comma before and in a series, aka, the Oxford comma. These little buggers serve a purpose greater than torturing middle school students in English class. They help us make sense.
Former Penguin editor Lynn Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves (great title, huh?) is all about the power of the lowly comma. One of her example is the famous telegram: “Not getting any better. Come at once” which became “Not getting any. Better come at once.” It’s a funny book, not a grammar text, but Truss is concerned about the effect the transition to electronic media is having on good writing. In an interview she told Reuters: “If people have been taught that it is not important to use punctuation then it is really the death of prose and poetry.”
Do you believe that? Remember, punctuation came into use with the printing press. Medieval scribes ran everything together. They threw in a space between lines here and there. The manuscripts were beautifully illuminated, but they weren’t punctuated. But who cared? Nobody could read back then. Those manuscripts weren’t for reading. They were for storing.
And what about those quotation marks? While the comma is getting kicked to the curb, quotation marks are everywhere. When in doubt, sketch them in the air. I Googled misused quotation marks and I found a whole gallery on About.com:
—My mother sent my husband and me a Valentine’s Day card. Printed on the front was:
To a special daughter and “son.“ I’m sure my husband really felt like one of the family after that.
–A sign at the swimming pool at Reed College in Portland, OR asks you to:
Please “shower“ before entering the pool.
--I was driving in northern Minnesota when I saw a billboard for a car dealership that claimed it had been around:
Perhaps all of their cars were “classics.”
What are some of your pet punctuation peeves? Do you have any concerns about the effect of electronic media on our writing? Are English teachers fighting a losing battle, or do we still have allies like my father, who never let a grammatical error slip past him?