Sentence first


20th December 2013

Quote with 9 notes

This is the way the world ends
Not with an interrobang but a winkey.
— (with apologies to T.S. Eliot)

Tagged: internetemoticonspunctuationpoetryT.S. Eliotinterrobang

27th June 2012

Post with 2 notes

The work of punctuation

[T]he work of punctuation is mainly to show, or hint at, the grammatical relation between words, phrases, clauses, and sentences; but it must not be forgotten that stops also serve to regulate pace, to throw emphasis on particular words and give them significance, and to indicate tone. These effects are subordinate, and must not be allowed to conflict with the main object; but as the grammatical relation may often be shown in more than one way, that way can be chosen which serves another purpose best.

H.W. and F.G. Fowler, The King’s English

Tagged: writinglanguagegrammarpunctuationEnglish usagebooks

25th April 2012

Post with 5 notes

Wrinkles on the brow of text

The serious dash: its unsurpassed master in nineteenth-century German literature was Theodor Storm. Rarely have punctuation marks been so deeply allied with content as the dashes in his novellas, mute lines into the past, wrinkles on the brow of his text. With them the narrator’s voice falls into an uneasy silence: the span of time they insert between two sentences is that of a burdensome heritage; set bald and naked between the events they draw together, they have something of the fatefulness of the natural context and something of a prudish hesitancy to make reference to it. So discreetly does myth conceal itself in the nineteenth century, it seeks refuge in typography.

Theodor W. Adorno, in Punctuation Marks, translated by Shierry Weber Nicholsen

Tagged: writingpunctuationliteraturebooksTheodor Adornotypographyhistory

14th April 2012

Post with 34 notes

The tension of stacked parentheses

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)))))))))))).

Lewis Thomas, Notes on Punctuation

Tagged: punctuationwritinglanguagelinguisticsLewis ThomasparenthesesGreekhumour

4th April 2012

Post with 40 notes

James Thurber on exclamation marks and colons

Don’t use an exclamation mark in a moment of anger. If you insert one in a fit of temper, lay aside the letter until morning. You will be surprised how silly it will seem then — not only the exclamation mark but the whole letter. That brings us to the colon, or if it doesn’t, we’ll drag in the colon. It is my contention that a colon could almost always be used in place of an exclamation point. Its use as a symbol of passionate expression is not, I’ll grant you, well known, and yet it lends itself to finer shadings of excitement than the exclamation mark….

[I]t will be helpful to learn that the colon, which is typed by striking only one key, can be employed in place of the exclamation mark in almost any given sentence where the emotion one wishes to express is of an amatory nature.

Take the sentence “You are wonderful!” That’s trite, and it’s made triter by the exclamation point, but if one writes it thus: “You are: wonderful,” it’s certainly not trite and it has a richness that the other hadn’t or hasn’t — “hadn’t” is better, I guess. Nothing so closely resembles the catch in the voice of the lover as that very colon. Instead of shouting the word “wonderful,” as the exclamation point does, it forces a choking pause before that word, thus giving an effect of tense, nervous endearment, which is certainly what the writer is after. Of course whether he should be after that effect, no matter how the sentence is punctuated, is a separate problem.

James Thurber, Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Guide to Modern English

Tagged: writinglanguagehumourJames Thurberpunctuationromance