September 24 is National Punctuation Day in the U.S. Why should you care?
Well, nearly all of us write for a living these days. You may not be a writer in the traditional sense, but you are writing emails to colleagues/clients, social media updates (that is, if you belong to the camp that sees tweeting as writing), and possibly content for your company’s website. All of this writing you’re doing calls for some attention to be given to those little characters between the words.
Bad punctuation can affect your image. Like poor-quality translations, it can also send out the wrong message, which can have very serious consequences. Mostly, it can evoke laughter at your expense – never a good thing. The most commonly confused punctuation marks are, not surprisingly, the most commonly used: commas and apostrophes. Search the internet and you will find any number of examples of otherwise good writing gone bad.
In honor of National Punctuation Day, we present you with these five punctuation facts:
- Languages didn’t always have punctuation. As long as they were oral, visual gestures and voice intonations were enough to denote meaning. But with the advent of printing came mass, impersonal communication. The speaker or author wouldn’t always be around to dispel ambiguity, hence the need for punctuation.
- The first books to be printed, at least in the Western world, were Bibles. And, thus, we have a passionate advocate for commas in St. Augustine.
- Most Asian and African languages didn’t have punctuation, or functioned with the bare minimum. For instance, Hindi, Sanskrit, and other languages that use the Devanagari script only have the vertical stroke ‘|’ to show the end of a sentence. In modern times, most of these languages have adopted the punctuation marks of English and other European languages.
- Sanskrit has a unique way of grouping and packaging words to compensate for its lack of punctuation.
- The ampersand was once taught to school children as the 27th letter of the alphabet. This and other interesting stories about punctuation marks that died and those that survived in the evolution of language can be found in this book by Keith Houston.
Last of all, don’t miss this fun video by Victor Borge on how it would be if we were to use punctuation in spoken language.
What are your punctuation pet peeves? Share them with us on Twitter or use the comments section below.