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Do we need expressive punctuation marks??!!

by: Marilyn Owen (4 December 2008)

There’s a bit of a contradiction here, isn’t there, you might ask! Expressive punctuation - whatever next?! Punctuation isn’t there to help you, the writer, express yourself or let others know how you feel or react!! Its function, as Lynn Truss has pointed out in her excellent book, Eats, Shoots and Leaves is to clarify meaning in an otherwise rambling, continuous un-broken-up stream-of-consciousness prose!

And indeed that is true – the most important and indispensible punctuation mark is the full stop or period as it is helpfully known in US English. Without that, where would we be? In the realms of life after death as in this quote from Eats, Shoots and Leaves taken from a County Schools Exam in 1937 (I can’t resist this one – I love it!!) – “Charles the First walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off.” Note the missing full stop which pupils were required to insert in order to pass!

As far as expression is concerned the most expressive punctuation marks are the exclamation mark (my favourite!!!) and the question mark. Both of these are used in twos and threes, and often more, by e-mailers and bloggers and anyone who is determined to get their point and meaning across in informal writing situations. Indeed one recent blogger noted about his own exclamatory habits that he only seems to use odd numbers of exclamation and question marks and never even ones!!! So favoured is the exclamation mark it is arguably the most expressive punctuation mark there is. For deeply meaningful and expressive questions (at least in the questioner’s mind!) multiple question marks are also now popular in e-mails and blogs. They seem to represent rising intonation, you know, the way the voice ends in a rising crescendo …

Is there anything else we can do to denote our expressions, moods and insinuations?? After all we can do all this (and more!) in speech with inflections and tonal changes in our voice, but sadly, in writing we have to add and invent our own expression marks. But it’s a definite NO to more punctuation marks which are of the old-fashioned prescriptive school of language and YES (note the e-mail shouting upper case letters) to the more liberal descriptive expression marks. You could even use word tags. Something akin to the Japanese ne (agreement), ka (question) or yo (exclamation). (We don’t really need that last one, do we, unless we write Yo!!! Or ka??)

Clearly, two marks of expression are inadequate to convey our ever changing nuances of meaning and expression. But there are little known punctuation marks that could fit the bill – for example there is a rhetorical, strangely shaped question mark that was invented in the 16th Century but which seems to have died out. Then too there is the sarcastimark which looks like this: .|. – hmm this one could be useful, no doubt!!

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Ref: 25 What an interesting article I wrote over 5 years ago - I actually enjoyed reading that and learning (again!) about the sarcastimark. . .
Marilyn - 17:22 25-11-2013

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