Notes On Punctuation

       There are no precise rules about punctuation (Fowler lays out some general advice (as best he can under the complex circumstances of English prose (he points out, for example, that we possess only four stops (the comma, the semicolon, the colon and the period (the question mark and exclamation point are not, strictly speaking, stops; they are indicators of tone (oddly enough, the Greeks employed the semicolon for their question mark (it produces a strange sensation to read a Greek sentence which is a straightforward question: Why weepest thou; (instead of Why weepest thou? (and, of course, there are parentheses (which are surely a kind of punctuation making this whole matter much more complicated by having to count up the left-handed parentheses in order to be sure of closing with the right number (but if the parentheses were left out, with nothing to work with but the stops we would have considerably more flexibility in the deploying of layers of meaning than if we tried to separate all the clauses by physical barriers (and in the latter case, while we might have more precision and exactitude for our meaning, we would lose the essential flavor of language, which is its wonderful ambiguity )))))))))))).

       The commas are the most useful and usable of all the stops. It is highly important to put them in place as you go along. If you try to come back after doing a paragraph and stick them in the various spots that tempt you you will discover that they tend to swarm like minnows in all sorts of crevices whose existence you hadn’t realized and before you know it the whole long sentence becomes immobilized and lashed up squirming in commas. Better to use them sparingly, and with affection, precisely when the need for each one arises, nicely, by itself.

       I have grown fond of semicolons in recent years. The semicolon tells you that there is still some question about the preceding full sentence; something needs to be added; it reminds you sometimes of the Greek usage. It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn’t get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; to read on; it will get clearer.

       Colons are a lot less attractive for several reasons: firstly, they give you the feeling of being rather ordered around, or at least having your nose pointed in a direction you might not be inclined to take if left to yourself, and, secondly, you suspect you’re in for one of those sentences that will be labeling the points to be made: firstly, secondly and so forth, with the implication that you haven’t sense enough to keep track of a sequence of notions without having them numbered. Also, many writers use this system loosely and incompletely, starting out with number one and number two as though counting off on their fingers but then going on and on without the succession of labels you’ve been led to expect, leaving you floundering about searching for the ninethly or seventeenthly that ought to be there but isn’t.

       Exclamation points are the most irritating of all. Look! they say, look at what I just said! How amazing is my thought! It is like being forced to watch someone else’s small child jumping up and down crazily in the center of the living room shouting to attract attention. If a sentence really has something of importance to say, something quite remarkable, it doesn’t need a mark to point it out. And if it is really, after all, a banal sentence needing more zing, the exclamation point simply emphasizes its banality!

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Everything is easier in theory.

In English, we just finished reading Beloved by Toni Morrison (phenominal book). In it, there is a stream-of-consciousness section.  Every week, we have to do two journal entries: One assigned, one that we choose. Today, we wrote our own streams-of-consciousness for our assigned journal entry. 

After I got through the initial I’m-writing-with-a-blue-green-pen-because-my-purple-one-won’t-work-right thoughts, I ended up on one core idea. Because it’s in stream-of-consciousness, the grammar and punctuation are not correct.  That’s how it’s supposed to be. Here’s that part of my writing – right off the paper:

 

 

I love people. The hardest thing about people is when you have to hurt them. How do you comprimise your not wanting to hurt them with your I need to hurt them? How do you take not hurting them and the amuont you need to and take the average? When you have to tell some one something but it hurts or when you have to do something but it hurts. How has the human race lived through life? I mean, how have people not just decided to stop living? and i don’t mean suicide, I’d never, ever do that. I mean going numb or deciding other people are too much to deal with? Do things end up worth everything it takes, eventually? Everything is so much easier in theory. You say oh, I’d do this in situation X, but wwhen situation x actually happens, it starts looking and feeling like the quadratic equation. Is there a math problem that you can use to figure out what to do? Plug in the result you want for Y, plug in who your action and decision will effect for X and Z, plug in the outcome you absolutely DO NOT want as Q, plug your heart into the equation and solve it. Or would that mathmatic equation take the worth and purpose out of life? Take the trial and error and learning out of life? If we had a math problem to make our choices for us, would we stop thinking? stop feeling? stop valuing other people and start viewing them as mere variables?