12 March, 2013
Punctuation: new uses, old abuses
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.