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“The older I grow, the less important the comma becomes. Let the reader catch his own breath”. – by Elizabeth Clarkson Zwart
Eats Shoots & Leaves – by Lynn Truss
Since starting up my business – Woolcock Typing Services – in March 2010, offering outsourced secretarial, typing and proof-reading services, I have become more and more aware that a lot of people cannot spell or punctuate. In fact, a lot of “text speak” is creeping into the written word!
As an avid reader of books, I think my knowledge of words has multiplied a million-fold. It irritates me to read a published book and find errors in it.
No, I am not a perfectionist! I just get irritated that people either do not bother to read their work, are slap-dash with their writing or just do not care how their work looks.
I do give leeway to people who are dyslexic or have dyspraxia. I have known people with dyslexia. When I was a Cub Scout Leader, at one time we had 4 Cubs who were dyslexic. This came out in the Kim’s Game – remembering 20 items that were then hidden. They were fantastic at memory, but writing – forget it! Also, despite being mildly dyspraxic, my elder daughter has become an excellent teacher of 2 foreign languages.
Now, back to the reason for this article.
I came across the first quote, and it made me laugh. However, it also made me think about writing this article, about where you put a full stop, a comma, etc, etc, etc.
I have just finished reading a short story in Spanish where there were only 2 full-stops, but had commas, semi-colons, colons, etc. It was a monologue and it was very difficult to work out where to take a breath. I had to read passages/pages two or three times to actually get the drift of where I ought to pause, take breath, etc. It was not difficulty with the language, I would have had the same problem if it had been written in English.
So, punctuation is very important. Try writing a long, rambling sentence without any punctuation. You will know what you have written and what you are meaning to say, so give what you have written to someone else and ask them to read it. They will either be confused or get a totally different meaning to what you meant to say. They will probably have to read it a few time to get the gist.
As Raw Business Magazine’s outsourced proofreader, I sometimes had to read passages two or three times to get the gist and then put the punctuation in. Even so, where you put the punctuation in could alter the sense of the sentence – from a positive meaning to a negative meaning – and I have asked that the proofread article be sent back to the contributor for their approval – had I got the meaning correct?
I think everyone knows the second quote of “Eats Shoots & Leaves”. This can be taken 3 ways:
This proves that it is quite difficult to ascertain the meaning when there is no punctuation.
Commas can also be used instead of parentheses (-). If you write a sentence with an “aside”, these would either go inside the brackets or have commas at the beginning or the end. If the sentence makes exactly the same sense without the words inside the brackets or the commas, that is where you put them in.
As an example, there was an article in Raw Business Magazine, Issue 15: “When I was at Virgin, as Sir Richard Branson’s Corporate Development Director, I saw first hand how to get those column inches”. If you take out the words between the commas, this sentence still makes total sense and still says what the contributor wanted to say: “When I was at Virgin, I saw first hand how to get those column inches.”.. However, the words inside the commas qualify what job he was doing there.
My husband has a particular saying that I have heard many times over our 33 years of wedded bliss: “It depends on where you put the emphasis!”
To be able to give the correct meaning to what you have written, it needs to have the correct punctuation. Do not take the attitude of Elizabeth Clarkson Zwart quote: “The older I grow, the less important the comma becomes. Let the reader catch his own breath”.
Even though I am a “wordsmith”, I know I do not always get it right! I will have to read my article many times before I am satisfied with it, leaving it for hours or even days and then come back with fresh eyes and mind and find further amendments needing to be done.