National Punctuation Day was Saturday, September 24 — but we celebrate every day! So, we asked Moira Rose Donohue, author of Penny and the Punctuation Bee and Alfie the Apostrophe to talk more about it.
Happy National Punctuation Day!
by Moira Rose Donohue
A teacher recently asked me if I knew how many punctuation marks there were. I stared at her, gaping like an open parenthesis. Seeing my distress, she told me the answer.
Then she proceeded, after inserting a colon, to list them. They are: comma, period, question mark, apostrophe, exclamation point, parenthesis, quotation mark, hyphen, ampersand, colon, semi colon, ellipsis and, my person favorite, asterisk.
Think punctuation is silly in today’s world of abbreviated written conversation? Well, consider this: A text from a mom saying, “Be home at 6,” without final punctuation is ambiguous. But add a question mark and it’s an inquiry about the recipient’s schedule. End it with a period and it’s a statement of fact about mom’s schedule. And put in an exclamation point, and, well, you can just imagine what will happen if you’re not home at six!
And what about the Internet?
Where would we be without the dot before “com”? In fact, the Internet needed more than the existing array of punctuation marks and took the forward slash, a mere symbol, and raised it to the status of a punctuation mark.
And what about emoticons? What are they but more elaborate-looking punctuation marks? In fact, emoticons have become so necessary to communication that we use combinations of punctuation marks to make them when we don’t have hearts and smiley faces on our phone text programs. Perhaps someone should set up rules for them. Does a smiley face come before or after the final period?
Of course, it’s the rules that are intimidating. We worry about the “stickler” out there, red pen ready to humiliate us. And certainly the misplaced comma can change the entire meaning, as in the proverbial panda that “eats, shoots, and leaves.” And a missing quotation mark in an almost century-old law had to be added by the Supreme Court so that the law, giving banks certain insurance powers, could remain valid.
Still, I advocate a “tolerant” approach to punctuation—after all, the goal is to enhance communication and clarify meaning. But it is helpful to distinguish between the possessive form of the personal pronouns (“its” and “their”) and the contractions made by combining “it” and “they” with the verb “to be” (“it’s” and “they’re”).
So, befriend punctuation.
And as we celebrate National Punctuation Day, take a look at the list above, and try to decide which punctuation mark you are most like. Need some help?
Well, if you are always asking “Why?” then you are unquestionably a question mark.
Excitable, life-of-the-party type? The exclamation point.
A “just the facts” kind of guy? You’re probably a period.
Always on time? Well, that’s what the two dots of the colon love to hear!
How about the hesitator, the person who…well…pauses? You’re the ellipsis.
Are you always whispering secrets (some might call it gossiping)? The parenthesis it is.
And if you are a list maker, where would you be without the comma?
As for me, well, that’s easy. No one twinkles like I do. I’m an asterisk of course.
Still not sure? Visit my blog (www.moirarosedonohue.net) and take the “What Punctuation Mark Are You?” test. And take a look at my programs and activities. After all, punctuation is not a one-day-a-year thing!