Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Happy National Punctuation Day!

Or so J. tells me that's what it is. So I decided to blog about it, because I really like grammar and punctuation. At least I like it when it is well-used, but I will admit to being vaguely (OK, very much) disturbed by poor punctuation. I am likely to correct it in books... even library books. I have yet to actually deface a public sign due to poor punctuation, though we as a family "collect" public displays of improper punctuation. Contractions and quotation marks are the usual suspects. Why is it that stores, when they display sale notices for things, have a tendency to use quotation marks? You know, a sign that reads Sale! "Apples" $.79/lb! I always wonder what the apples really are because it is something obviously (to me at least) pretending to be apples.

Who's and whose and its and it's are always troublesome, as are they're, their, and there. Speaking of the Oxford comma... What? You didn't know we were? Oh, sorry. I just used it so I guess I was thinking about it in my head. The Oxford comma for those who don't feel as compulsive about these things is the last comma in a set of commas used to separate a list of items in a sentence, such as my example of they're, their, and there. It is the one that comes before the word 'and'. While some style manuals do not think it is necessary and do not recommend its use, I really like the Oxford comma for clarity.

Take the panda joke, for example. (I also really, really like pandas, as you know, so this works out well.)

A panda walks into a bar, sits down and orders a sandwich. He eats the sandwich, pulls out a gun and shoots the waiter dead.

As the panda stands up to go, the bartender shouts, "Hey! Where are you going? You just shot my waiter and you didn't pay for your sandwich!" 

The panda yells back at the bartender, "Hey, I'm a PANDA! Look it up!" The bartender opens his dictionary and sees the following definition for panda: 

"A tree dwelling marsupial of Asian orgin, characterized by distinct black and white coloring. Eats shoots and leaves.


The panda could have used a lesson in punctuation. The only way he gets away with shooting the waiter is if the definition of a panda had commas, as in "eats, shoots, and leaves".

Speaking of Eats, Shoots & Leaves, you really need to read this book if you are the least bit interested in punctuation. (And maybe you need to read it even more if you're not.) It has been around for a while, but it is funny and informative and the author's dedication to punctuation makes my little obsession pale in comparison.

I think this punctuation-thing runs in the family. As we were driving last week and stopped at a light, TM looks out of the window and says, "They should have put commas in that sign." And he was right. Good boy.


3 comments:

Erica said...

I love that last example! I have to admit that I never knew it was called an Oxford comma, but I really like using it too, even when I was taught that we didn't need to all the time.

Shonya said...

In my English classes, we were told to use the Oxford comma. In Journalism, (my college major) we were told not to use it.

sandwichinwi said...

My puntuator and I are snuggling on the couch giggling at your post. Upon reading about Eats, Shoots & Leaves in your post, she asked, "Where IS that book?" Will have to get it out for my sweet 11 yo. (who is consistently disgusted by the use of an apostrophe in plurals).

Blessings,
Sandwich

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