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!

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