12 March, 2013

Punctuation: new uses, old abuses

Punctuation can be a thorny issue. Some people get very uptight about its proper usage, other people find themselves panicked when faced with a semi-colon. But really, there aren't so very many punctuation marks in common usage in the English language are there? Perhaps it's time for some new ones.

Two of our friends came to stay this weekend, and I found one of them chortling over a funny article on collegehumor.com - 8 New and Necessary Punctuation Marks. These new punctuation marks include ones that indicate sincerity or sarcasm, which is a great idea - especially for use in social media. My favourite of the eight, however, is the Morgan Freemark - the punctuation mark you use to suggest the reader reads a particular phrase or passage in the voice of Morgan Freeman. Brilliant.

I love punctuation. I've blogged before about my love for the interrobang - a cross between an exclamation mark and a question mark. I'm also one of those writers who sprays commas, em-dashes and semi-colons willynilly around the place. Even the lack of punctuation can be very effective if used properly. The final episode of Ulysses by James Joyce, Molly's Soliloquy, has no punctuation at all, not even apostrophes, yet it's brilliant and engaging and certainly not the hardest bit of Ulysses!

I'm sure we've all come across punctuation that has been misused.  The pub Robin Hoods Retreat in Bristol used to drive me mad every time I went past it, and I'm still trying to work out what the manufacturers of a bottle of lemonade I drank in my teens meant when they said it was  made "with" real lemons.

But punctuation can be clever as well. I'm reminded of the Simpson's episode where Bart and Lisa are playing against each other in ice hockey. Lisa's supporters are chanting, "Kill Bart! Kill!", while Bart's supporters are chanting, "Kill, Bart! Kill!". Where have you seen puctuation that's made you cringe or laugh?

I've been trying to think of new punctuation that would aid me in my writing. What would you invent? For me, a mark that indicated a thought would be really useful. When you are writing in the third person, it's difficult to convey the thoughts of a character without resorting to clumsiness.

Sam thought it wasn't fair.
It wasn't fair, Sam thought.
"It isn't fair," Sam thought.

I don't like any of these. Nor do I like putting thoughts in italics. Of course, often you don't need to tag it at all - it's obvious that a statement is the thoughts of the character, but sometimes it would be nice to have a punctuation mark - perhaps one that looks like a cloud - to indicate internal thought in the middle of the narration. After all, we can indicate questions, even though it's usually obvious to the reader that a question is being asked. I'm struggling to think of a name for my new mark - what do you think I should call it? A thinkese? A thinkling mark? Hmmm...

Here are a couple of things to check out if punctuation is your thing:

The book Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss (about either a panda, or a deadly diner).
The blog of unnecessary quotation marks.
The website where you can report apostrophe abuse.


  1. Bad punctuation doesn't bother me much, unless it's in novels of course. Ones out in public on signs make me laugh though. Especially if it's a really obvious one--like your Robin Hoods.

    Maybe I'm more forgiving because I sometimes use bad punctuation in my casual writings, like e-mail and blog comments. And often don't re-read them before I hit publish.

    I could use the sarcasm one from the list. It'd be great for Facebook posts. Then I could stop using smiley faces all the time to show I'm not serious. Cause I use smiley faces for other things, and it may be confusing.

    I can't think of anything else off hand, but if I do I'll be back to let you know.

    1. Thanks Suzi. It doesn't bother me on a social scale - e-mails etc. I can be pretty slack about it! But I do think professional things should've been proofread! It does provide some good laughs though.

  2. If I was being serious I might suggest you call your new punctuation a thoughtation mark to match a quotation mark - keep things simple and all that. Personally though I'd go for a thinkle. A bit like a tinkle but more thoughtful. :)

    1. I LOVE thoughtation mark! But I think thinkle is cuter. Now I just need to get the whole world to agree it's necessary...

  3. You picked a good one! That would be awesome to have something that indicated thought.

    Perhaps the mark could be this with the up indicating thought...: ^What a good idea, this thoughtation malarkey.^

    Maybe you could contact somebody... or just start using it and see how it catches on. : )

    1. Perhaps if enough of us start using the marks (which I love - the idea of a little up arrow to point to thought is wonderful!) and we all get published around the same time, somebody will have to take notice!


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