From: Tracy Kershaw-Staley
Subject: In praise of punctuation
National Punctuation Day doesn't officially arrive until Sunday, but we in editorial are today giving praise to those comely commas and prudent periods. I baked cupcakes, which will be arranged and on display as giant exclamation mark later this afternoon in the kitchen. I figured that the exclamation mark that rock star of punctuation was the appropriate shape, given the celebratory nature of the day. Yvonne lovingly decorated cookies with various punctuation marks. Jane is serving as official photographer.
So, you may wonder, why all the fuss?
I don't know when I first came to enjoy a well-punctuated sentence or to appreciate the humor in a misplaced modifier. I think it was when I realized that all those commas and colons are more than just dots on a page. As words render thoughts into something public and permanent, punctuation turns it into something sensible. It guides us. Without punctuation, there would be no pauses, no exaltations, no questions, no endings in the written word.
A properly deployed ellipsis or comma or semicolon can power a sentence as much as its verb. Punctuation brings clarity, rhythm, organization and voice. If you don't believe me, think back to trying to read Faulkner for the first time. It took me several reads to understand Absalom, Absalom! because of his nontraditional use of punctuation. Yet at the same time, his omission of commas and periods created his unmistakable voice. But I digress . . .
One of my favorite uses of commas and semicolons comes in this sentence from essayist Scott Russell Sanders Paying the Price of My Father's Booze:
Consider a few of our synonyms for drunk: tipsy, tight, pickled, soused, and plowed; stoned and stewed, lubricated and inebriated, juiced and sluiced; three sheets to the wind, in your cups, out of your mind, under the table; lit up, tanked up, wiped out; besotted, blotto, bombed, and buzzed; plastered, polluted, putrefied; loaded or looped, boozy, woozy, fuddled, or smashed; crocked and shit-faced, corked and pissed, snockered and sloshed.
So eat a cupcake, hug a comma, and celebrate National Punctuation Day. (NationalPunctuationDay.com)
Anyone who can improve a sentence of mine with the omission or placing of a comma is looked upon as my dearest friend. George Moore