Tuesday, 6 March 2012

I; love? punctuation!

Good punctuation, that is. But it would seem that there are still a great many people who have no idea how to go beyond the basics.

One of the most successful non-fiction books of recent years was Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves. But while this rode high among the bestsellers for weeks (and was a most entertaining read), I have a feeling that she was probably preaching to the converted, for incorrect use of puntuation seems to be on the increase.

My favourite punctuation mark has to be the much-neglected semi-colon. That delicate little pause, not quite a full stop, can lend elegance to writing. But I doubt whether most schoolchildren have even heard of it.

And my least favourite? Oh, it has to be the exclamation mark; worse even than the ubiquitous apostrophe. The exclamation mark is beginning to lose all its meaning; it is used for stress, to emphasise a "joke" (thus removing any humour that might have remained), and in twos and threes for...what? "We went to the beach!" "And brought a picnic!!" (So?)

Christmas round robins are full of exclamation marks. In some, every holiday, achievement, house move etc. is accompanied by an exclamation mark. Why? I have no idea. I can understand why someone's less than brilliant offspring achieving an A in physics might deserve an exclamation mark (suprise!), but otherwise, please leave it out. And (to pre-empt complaints), if I place an exclamation mark after the acknowledgement of a comment on a post, it's because it really is an exclamation, or to show that I'm not taking myself too seriously! (You see?)


  1. You are so right. I, too, adore the semi-colon. Not quite a full stop but a delicate pause. Well put. I like the Em Dash too, but as with the exclamation point, should be used infrequently. Actually, in novel writing one should never use an exclamation point except in dialogue, and then but rarely.

    I think I tend to use them to often in comments!

  2. Without semi-colons I wouldn't be able to write a single blog post, I'm afraid. Or email, for that matter. Or anything at all! (Exclamation mark fully intentional) What I also use (maybe over-use) a lot is putting something in brackets. As for exclamation marks; their use very much depends on who I am writing to, and what about.

  3. I love semi-colons too and actually feel a thrill every time I use them.
    I think people who misuse punctuation often think that use of any punctuation marks at all is better than none. Perhaps they haven't been taught exactly what each mark really means and how to use them sparingly and with care.
    I think you're right about Eats, Shoots And Leaves. It may have appealed most to those of us who love punctuation.
    I am always terrified of using exclamation marks in my writing. I feel worried when there is a need for one.
    My mother, who is usually good at all things grammatical, sends me emails with dozens of hyphens instead of commas and even instead of full-stops. They read like an old-fashioned telegram!

  4. I love the semi-colon. I do not love exclamation marks! (oops) I am copy typing some of my old work (the original electronic copies were lost) and I am so annoyed at the amount of exclamation marks I used to use. I hang my head in shame x

  5. You are definitely preaching to the converted judging by the comments so far. I was brought up on semi-colons and do tend to use them quite a lot. I also use colons more than most people do. Unfortunately - and I have been trying to stop - I have developed a tendency to use exclamation marks more than I perhaps ought to do. I think that it is a result of people writing in a much more chatty or informal fashion these days. The exclamation point is often used when appropriate words would have served the cause more effectively.

    As a person who, in general conversation, is capable (and frequently does) interrupt his own interruptions I also have a tendency to use brackets or hyphens more than most people do. However I rather feel that this is not necessarily a Bad Thing.

  6. Yvonne and Librarian, join the semi- colon fan club! ( btw was an exclamation).

    Joanna, I feel the same about exclamation marks. Having railed against them more than once, I have to be very careful.

    Join the club, Teresa ( note lack of exc. mark. Which makes this look rather too serious. Oh dear) .

    GB, I think I am also guilty of over- use of parentheses. Note to self...