the modern and the legless

I’m an English major, so it follows that I should pay particular attention to my punctuation; unfortunately, in this day and age, I feel as though I am part of a minority in doing so.

I will concede that it took a long time for me to really appreciate the reasons why we have the system of punctuation that we do. I used the system without even really understanding it; it just came natural to me, and my mother encouraged it as much as she could. Being the daughter of a teacher, having (at the very least) decent punctuation is near unavoidable, and being aware of its importance is inevitable, even if one doesn’t completely understand the many intricacies involved.

I am now twenty-two, and can happily say that I have a very good understanding of punctuation and its vital importance to written language. Much to my chagrin, however, I live in a world that seems to shun proper punctuation in all its forms, and it sometimes makes me physically ill to think of how ignorant people can be of the use of a simple period, or comma. Worse still are those who know how and when to use any given punctuation mark – and they don’t! I can’t figure out if it’s laziness, rebellion, or a bit of both that causes such terrible abuse of the English language, but it sometimes puts me in such a state that I feel as though I might explode if I see another sentence that is idly devoid of punctuation.

I suppose you’re wondering what’s brought on this rather pointed tirade. I can trace the reason back about a month, to a night when I decided to watch Bridget Jones’s Diary for the millionth time.  I really enjoy Bridget, and (this goes without saying, but I will anyway) I am completely smitten with Mark Darcy, as many women are. The next day, I happened upon a copy of the book on which the movie is based, and quickly made the decision to read it, as I hadn’t before then. I’d finished it in less than a week, and was heartily impressed. Because Bridget is so taken with the BBC’s miniseries of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I thought, “I should watch that again!”, and so, I did!

The interesting thing about the timing of all of this was that I decided that I would watch it on the day of my final exam in a course called, “The Social History of Popular Music”. Essentially a course in the history of rock’n’roll music, it was perhaps the farthest subject matter from the sphere of Jane Austen’s England that one could possibly imagine. I watched the entire six-hour mini-series right before I wrote my three-hour final exam, and consequently wrote the entire thing in language that was as close to high society, 19th century English as I could possibly manage. You can certainly see the humour in that, I’m sure. My grammar and punctuation was even more spot-on than usual, and I went away from the exam pleased as punch. All of this brings me to the next day, when all of this converged upon me at once in a fervent desire to read a book I’d bought a whole two years before and never managed to get through: Eats, Shoots & Leaves. 

Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a “zero tolerance approach to punctuation”, and something that – I am lead to believe – only those who are academically inclined bother to pick up and read. Beside being absolutely laugh-out-loud hilarious, it’s well written, and makes some excellent points where modern society and punctuation are concerned. The author is well-acquainted with the English language, and has a great love for it, so it is not surprising that she castigates the current generation of internet junkies who prefer to mess with proper punctuation, or ignore it altogether. In this matter, I could whole-heartedly agree with Ms. Truss. For years it has been a pet peeve of mine that while I am engaged in a conversation with someone online, they don’t use proper punctuation. I will admit that I am not always conventional, but I always maintain a relative grasp on reasonable punctuation. Any of my internet friends who avoid punctuation like the plague will perhaps want to punch me in the face for saying this, but: holy gee, guys! Smarten up, would ya? I am much of the opinion that one simply cannot properly express oneself in the written word without the use of some punctuation. Our speech is dynamic, with pauses, gentle nuances, exclamations, and all types of feeling, yet some people think it fit to write a sentence that doesn’t include anything to suggest such feeling, and if spoken, their sentences would sound much like a robot would: deadly monotone and unbelievably boring. One of the main uses of punctuation, in its infancy, was to indicate tone and timing for actors; without it, Shakespeare would sound like Ben Stein – albeit on a good day.

In a professional circumstance, bad punctuation just makes a person appear to be sloppy and inattentive. You might be surprised, however, at how many business people are ignorant to this, and continue to e-mail potential clients and business partners in a manner that an eight-year-old might – and without capital letters, too! I long for the day when the capital letter makes its return to Weblish (my newly adopted term for internet English; thank you, Lynne Truss). I can understand the removal of capital letters for artistic purposes (this is something I’ve done myself), but being ignorant or simply careless with them could cause me, and others who have dedicated their lives to the written word, to have a heart attack and die. Alas, I am but one young woman with a love for the English language; of what consequence am I?

I’ll end with a wild suggestion: it’s not that difficult! To me, having good punctuation is much like having good manners in the way that they are both helpful and a point of great importance when judging a person’s character and mode of expression. Punctuation is the leg upon which written expression stands, so to all the legless fools out there, I say: get up off your lazy asses and walk!  

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2 thoughts on “the modern and the legless

  1. Speaking from professional experience I can’t agree more with this sentiment. I can not count the number of times I have encountered bad, lacking, or total void of proper grammar in professional correspondence. In the technical world it is often used as an excuse “I am an engineer/programmer, I don’t need to know how to write” but yet when you email me for help I can not understand what you are asking. This has lead to many frustrations and often many wasted hours deciphering the request.

    I wish people took this more seriously and in the early 200x’s it seemed that technology business leaders were taking notice. I am unsure of the state of these matters today.

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