Monday, September 24, 2012

Fun with Punctuation. Really.

Those little black marks we use in our sentences are remarkably powerful. A slight change or deletion to a sentence, and suddenly we have a totally different meaning.

Here are two of my favorite examples in action.

#1. I see this one around Facebook a lot, so you may have seen it: 
Version 1: Let's eat Grandpa!
Version 2: Let's eat, Grandpa!

"Punctuation saves lives."
(All thanks to a little comma!)
#2. I first saw this one in college thanks to a professor. Like the first example, neither is incorrect from a technical standpoint, but each has a totally different meaning that relies entirely on punctuation.
Version 1: Woman, without her man, is nothing.
Our professor wrote that on the board, to the angry gasps (and possibly hisses) of the women in the class (and to the chortles of the guys).
Version 2: Woman: without her, man is nothing.
Now the women were laughing. And the guys just grunted and shifted uncomfortably. 

So why am I bringing up punctuation, something usually reserved for Word Nerd Wednesday? For one reason:

Today is the 9th Annual National Punctuation Day!

According to the official website, the holiday, among other things, "reminds America that a semicolon is not a surgical procedure."

(Hahahaa! The only thing better than a semicolon is a semicolon joke. I know, right?!)

Each year, the folks at National Punctuation Day host a short writing challenge, one that requires entries to use thirteen different punctuation marks in the span one paragraph, which can consist of only 3 sentences. (Yes, you can use the same mark more than once, but you must use all thirteen.)

I love the idea of this challenge, because, among other things, you must know how all of the punctuation marks actually work (or you're forced into finding out!).

Here's this year's contest, taken from the official site:
Vote for your favorite Presidential Punctuation Mark in one, highly punctuated paragraph!
The rules: Write one paragraph with a maximum of three sentences using the following 13 punctuation marks to explain which should be “presidential,” and why: apostrophe, brackets, colon, comma, dash, ellipsis, exclamation point, hyphen, parentheses, period, question mark, quotation mark, and semicolon. You may use a punctuation mark more than once, and there is no word limit. Multiple entries are permitted.
In short, persuade us that your favorite punctuation mark should be the official punctuation mark of the President of the United States.

While the holiday is a time to play around with punctuation, I hope it also brings some attention to the little marks that can seemingly clutter up our sentences.

If more people understood how a well-punctuated sentence can make their message come across smoothly and easily for the reader, I think more people would learn proper punctuation.

They'd also realize that punctuation rules aren't limiting; rather, the rules open up far greater possibilities for communication than you would have without them.

The contest is open until the Sunday, September 30. For details about how to submit, what prizes you're competing for, and more, visit the National Punctuation Day site.

And then bake up some punctuation mark treats. Just think: three cupcakes in a row for ellipses. A jelly roll cake plus a cookie for an exclamation point. Bread dough shaped and baked into a question mark. The possibilities are endless! I may have to come up with a punctuation mark-themed dessert or side dish tonight!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

On My Own—From the Archives

SO much has happened and is happening that I'm trying frantically to catch up, and that includes keeping my blog updated. I hope to return to Word Nerd Wednesday next week.

One thing happening is that my oldest daughter has been playing music from Les Miserables. She particularly enjoys playing "On My Own."

It's beautiful, but I admit that hearing it also makes me giggle. The experience described below is why. It originally appeared here on my blog in October 2007.

(This same daughter, if anyone in my area is interested, is beginning to teach piano lessons. She's a beautiful musician, and she's great with kids.)

On My Own, Or on YouTube

As I’ve mentioned before, I went to high school with a bunch of thespians. These are people who took acting and made it a lifestyle. Their favorite party games were acting games. (Ever played "In the Manner of the Adverb"?) Their favorite pastimes were viewing or participating in plays—or listening to Broadway soundtracks.

With their insane music ability, it was a snap to stand around a piano while one (take your pick; it could be any one of half a dozen of them) sight read music and the rest sang along in perfect harmony. (Except me. "Give Annette the melody" was their sympathetic mantra.) Their competitions weren’t of the football variety, but rather Region Drama.

Being part of this group was particularly interesting for me, as I lived in a tight shell of shyness. These people exploded that shell off my person—which was a good thing in many ways, if uncomfortable at times. It stretched me.

Because of them, I auditioned for and performed in three community youth theater productions. It was because of them I started taking voice lessons and tried out for (and sang in) the school choir. It was because of them I found my interest in ballroom dance (which, in turn, led to meeting my husband).

It was also because of them that I ended up playing the temptress/blackmailer Desaray Cahoon one wintry night.

Four of the gang were on a double date and decided to make a soap opera video. They spent much of the evening writing out the script. Then they called the rest of our group over to film the thing. (Essentially crashing their date, but hey—we were all buds, and it was fun.)

The script began with one of the love interests getting smacked on the head by a rival, sending her into a coma. I’m fuzzy on the rest of the story—it made more sense on paper than it did on tape—but there was also a mute girl cured by the pure love of her teacher, including a delightful montage between them after they discover their love. They frolicked in the snow in Em’s backyard.

And then there was the blackmailing scheme of which Desaray (moi) was a part.

But the scene that had us all in stitches was when Em—the one who loved the mute girl's teacher (so we had a triangle; he was in love with the mute instead of her . . . the whole thing was dreadfully soapy)—sang a tearful rendition of “On My Own” from Les Miserables.

To fully appreciate this, you have to understand Em. She’s a consummate actress. In high school she played about every leading role possible. She won the award as the best actor of her graduating class. She went on to get a BA and an MA in theater. So yeah, the girl could (and can) act.

[2012 update: She's gone on to appear in a film many of my readers have surely seen. In the Joseph Smith movie, she's Mary Fielding, Hyrum's wife.]

Em can be very intense in her performances, especially her dramatic ones. Which is what made her hysterical to watch when she would take humorous material and turn it serious.

To this day, I crack up whenever I think of her dramatic interpretation of the song, “Oklahoma.” I can still hear the emotion and intensity in her voice when she’d declare, “And the waving wheat can sure smell sweet.” She had us hyperventilating.

Take that passion, add a cup of melodrama, and throw “On My Own” at her.

During the taping, one of the pianists in the group (did I mention these friends were also ridiculously talented musically?) played the music while she sang the song with the passion no Eponine has ever expressed.

I don’t know how she kept a straight face; the rest of us were rolling on the floor trying not to laugh out loud and ruin the shot.

Afterward, we had a scream watching the soap opera—then we all declared it should be burned, because someone really could blackmail us with such embarrassing stuff.

To my knowledge, it never was destroyed. In fact, I’ve met people (friends of friends) who say they’ve seen it. Um . . . yikes?

So I’m a bit scared that some day it’ll make its way onto YouTube or something. (This was way before YouTube.)

Fast forward many years:

When I wrote the book that became Lost Without You, I dropped in an inside joke that only those friends would catch. Some of them reportedly snorted with laughter when they came to it.

It was when the voice teacher in the book is first introduced.

Her name is Desaray Cahoon.


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