26 January 2014

Attacks on Punctuation


by Louis Willis

After reading Leigh’s post on the comma, I remembered reading two articles about the changing way the period is being used, and an article on the uselessness of the apostrophe. I decided to write my first article on the attacks on punctuation.

THE PERIOD (FULL STOP)
Certainly no one could have anything against the period,could they? At least if you’re an old fogey like me, you’d think the period, the most effective punctuation mark, would always find a place even in today’s world of texting and tweeting. Who would the most useful punctuation mark offend? In the world of cybertalking, the challenge comes from texters, those who talk with their fingers and thumbs on their smartphones and smarttablets.
From the article “The Rise and Fall of the Lowly Period” by Kevin Drum, on the Mother Jones site, I learned that texters stopped using the period because it is so small on smartphone keyboards. In texting, to end a sentence you just stop, kind of like in speech. Ending a sentence with a period is either confusing or offensive.
From the second and longer article “The Period Is Pissed” by Ben Crair writing in the New Republic, I learned that “In most written language, the period is a neutral way to mark a pause or complete a thought; but digital communications are turning it into something more aggressive.” Crair also notes, “On text and instant messages, punctuation marks have largely been replaced by the line break.” 
I haven’t learned to talk with my fingers and thumbs and I’m reluctant to give up on the lowly period because that little pissed off rascal might just find a way to fight back. I wouldn’t survive in the world of texting because I’d confuse and hurt people’s feelings with my habit of ending sentences with a period.

APOSTROPHE
“Apostrophes show possession (except for personal pronouns), mark omissions in contractions, and form certain plurals” (Harbrace College Handbook, 13th edition).
The fight to eliminate the apostrophe has been going on for a long time and it naturally continues into the 21st century. On the web site “Kill The Apostrophe” the unnamed author wants to eliminate the apostrophe because “The fact is that apostrophes are redundant and consume considerable time and resource and wed be better off without em.” It is also wasteful, a tool of snobbery, time consuming, impedes communication and understanding, and is a distraction “for reasonable and intelligent people.” The author doesn’t want to pass a law but wants to effect “some change down on the ground.” He wants us to wage war against the apostrophe.
John McWhorter, an American linguist and political commenter according to Wikipedia, strikes back at those who want to kill the apostrophe in his essay “The Foolish, Malicious War on Apostrophe’s” on the New Republic web site. He admits that “More than a few understand that apostrophes serve no function and could be eliminated from writing with ill effect.” However, “The only reason the apostrophe will always be with us… is not clarity but the mere fact that writing without it looks funny to us.”
Im the kind of person who wants to protect the language from the language police and I hope youre too. I’d like to agree with McWhorter that “the apostrophe will be with us forever.” But texting and tweeting give me no hope. Even The Apostrophe Protection Society, which reminds “all writers of English text, whether on notices or in documents of any type, of the correct usage of the apostrophe should you wish to put right mistakes you may have inadvertently made,” may not be able to protect it.
I wonder how in 50 years talking with fingers and thumbs will change written language. Will the period become a weapon of aggression? Will the apostrophe finally disappear? Will punctuation disappear?
Maybe the apostrophe has no practical use, but we should keep it but I’ve no idea why. Which side of the apostrophe fence are you on?
Finally, while surfing the web looking for more articles on punctuation, I stumbled on an interesting tidbit of information: September 24 of each year is “National Punctuation Day.”

Period. Full stop.

14 comments:

Dixon Hill said...

I'm very definitely pro-apostrophe. When first reading your sample sentence: “The fact is that apostrophes are redundant and consume considerable time and resource and wed be better off without em,” I found myself wondering why the author wanted to get married without apostrophes.

Janice Law said...

The Apostrophe Protection Society sounds as if it deserves a story of its own!

Anonymous said...

I bemoan but its probably futile however what do I know

Anonymous said...

This is hard to imagine! oops, I used punctuation. oops, I did it again.

I love your article!

Leigh Lundin said...

Louis, I hadn't heard of this previously, but I'm on the side of punctuation. It took us several hundred years to work out the need for punctuation and high school kids with a SMS phone shouldn't dictate who's offended by what. Sounds like anti-punctuation nazis to me!

Herschel Cozine said...

eliminate capital letters punctuation use of adverbs and so on and you have a barely recognizable language at least for reading i think wed be better off using periods commas so we dont end up with nonsense like this in fact the computer agrees with me because it changed my lower case i to a capital and i had to convince it not to do so

Jeff Baker said...

A while back I tried to backspace and delete an extra comma using my laptop. No dice! It was a bit of grunge on my screen! And when I'm* spellchecking a manuscript, I realize if it wasn't for sentence fragments, I would have no dialogue! (I write the way people talk!)

*note the apostrophe.

Anonymous said...

I know language evolves, but these anti-punction punks seem like nihilists, reducing civilization to literary rubble.

Connie Piel said...

Sounds like the tail wagging the dog to me, texters dictating what is and isn't proper etiquette while they text and talk annoying others on the bus, the train, in theaters. And they dare say we're rude?

Louis A. Willis said...

After thinking about it and reading your comments, I know why I wouldn’t want to kill the apostrophe or any other punctuation marks: (I like the colon and semicolon), my high school and college English teachers’ ghost would haunt me, even though I don’t believe in ghost.

As for texters, I just might sic the language police here in Tennessee on them after I persuade some of our state legislature that it’s a conspiracy by the federal government to control how we Tennesseans write and talk.

Anonymous said...

You know it, my friend.
-- Tenn girl

Jan Grape said...

We just gotta keep periods and apostrophes. I'm with my the rest of you. Why should texters dictate to us. They can't spell even with autocorrect. Besides they'll soonhave giagantic thumb so why listen to them anyway. Now commas I can do without. I never know where to put those.

Jan Grape said...

We just gotta keep periods and apostrophes. I'm with my the rest of you. Why should texters dictate to us. They can't spell even with autocorrect. Besides they'll soonhave giagantic thumb so why listen to them anyway. Now commas I can do without. I never know where to put those.

Robert Lopresti said...

James Gordon wrote a song called "Pity The Poor Apostrophe," about that society. Unfortunately it appears you can only get it by buying his album ROAD KILL HAT.