Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Why Punctuation Is Important

I have seen a disturbing tend in writing lately: ignoring or omitting punctuation. I think it started with newspapers dropping the comma before the conjunction in lists, but modernist writers have taken it to extreme. Some, like ee cummings, even do away with case. Lyrics in album librettos are seldom punctuated beyond line breaks. We seem to have forgotten how important those lovely little unspoken marks are in communication. Here’s an example:

As I was waiting for a traffic light to turn, I noticed the truck beside me. Printed just beneath the store logo was:


Actually, the truck was not being driven unsafely; it was motionless—waiting for the light to change, just as I was. But the first time I parsed the sign, I saw two distinct sentences, “This truck is being driven unsafely. Call…” I’m sure the lack of case affected how I interpreted the symbols. I’m sure that the funiture company meant to say, “If this truck is being driven unsafely, call …” But someone decided it was too expensive to pay for punctuation.

So I want to call and let them know that their truck is telling everyone it is being driven unsafely and asking for help.

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