The Musical Symbols of Language

Posted: June 29, 2014 by writingsprint in Essay
Tags: , , , , ,


Interrobangs for everyone!

This post was inspired by the Daily Prompt “By the Dots.”

I admit it. I love punctuation. I use single quotes inside double quotes, unless I’m editing British English. I put periods inside parentheses when they contain an entire sentence. I know that en dashes set off ranges of numbers (like 5–6), em dashes set off explanatory statements—like this one—and hyphens are used for so much else that I tacked the Chicago Manual of Style’s hyphenation guide to the corkboard on my desk.

And inspired by Kurt Vonnegut’s blistering admonition against using semicolons, I’ve cut back on using them as much as I can. I think his choice of words was bloody cruel—I don’t have anything against transvestites or hermaphrodites—but I get the point. The purpose of a semicolon is to break up two sentences that are joined into a single sentence, where a conjunction has been left out. The writer didn’t just ramble from one sentence to two; they didn’t own up to it by using a conjunction. What a wimp!

I used to work with an editor who thought our team members were “comma crazy.” She would zealously cut out half of them from their presentations. Only a few crept back in. Either they thought she was right, or they didn’t feel strongly enough about their pauses to argue over it. My own personal quirk is not to end sentence bullet points with periods if I can help it. Usually, bullet points are only sentence fragments. If they aren’t full sentences, they don’t get a period. This sometimes gets trumped by the rule that all the bullet points in a sequence should be consistent. If one of the bastards gets a period, they all do.

God, I hope my coworkers don’t find out I have that rule. If they do, some of them will come up with fragment lists with one complete sentence in each, just to make me go back and put periods in.

There’s a certain beauty to properly-used hyphens, commas and periods. Punctuation are the symbols in the music of language. They tell the reader when to pause—when to jump—and when they can forget the next statement (even if it’s very interesting) without losing the meaning of the sentence. Most of us enjoy music without ever thinking about the notes, measures, and all the other symbols that going into pulling those wonderful sounds together. The best punctuation does its job without your knowing it was there.

For my fellow lovers of punctuation, here are 13 more punctuation marks for you to have fun with! Interrobangs for everyone!

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  1. I am the same as you regarding bullet points, lol. The punctuation in my posts will drive you crazy if you pay too much attention. I use all of these in really odd places: **, ‘ inside of “, (!!!), […], semicolon instead of a period, and a lot of these almost everywhere —> ……………….. 🙂


    • That’s okay. I’m reading your words, not your punctuation 🙂 . I break my own rules if I think it’s more effective or understandable. I never use en dashes, and I’ll use ?!? in all kinds of silly ways if it gets the point across.


  2. ws1g says:

    You know, I never really thought of English as one of my better subjects in high school, though I got As and Bs. As I’ve grown older and seen so many people’s writing, in college, at work, on the web… I realize that, while not the best, I am better than I thought at grammar and punctuation. I proofread almost everything I write to make sure my language conveys my intent, and is aimed at the right audience. The only caveat is social media, where all bets are off, and I rarely use correct capitalization or punctuation in that medium. But one of my biggest pet peeves was, when I was doing on-line school, that so many people used social media style (or lack of) in class posts and in assignments. I can’t understand why — or figure out when — it became acceptable to be lazy about such things in academic/professional environments.

    I need to go back and thank a few of my high school English teachers for cramming that into my hormone-infused teenage brain in a way that it stuck.


    • Thank you for making me smile today! Good writing can be a key discriminator in the workplace. I can’t tell you how many times I helped someone craft a white paper or email to have the right touch of diplomacy, urgency, or whatever they wanted to say. I think poor spelling and grammar is the fastest way to communicate to someone that you’re not intelligent.

      I use Siri for texting. I don’t have the patience to type it all and I refuse to use text-speak or whatever they call it. I even go back and correct it even if it’s mostly clear.

      Your English teachers would probably thank you for taking it in. Many people don’t!


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