grammar1

With the dawn of the Internet, the birth of Internet slang, and the growing age of SMS, many individuals are forgetting the fundamental aspects of English punctuation.  (1)

Whenever I pick up a magazine, newspaper, or (especially) an advertisement lately, I could just die grammatically.

What is it with the common use ( or lack thereof) of punctuation? We see movies titles such as “Two Weeks Notice”, store signs that yell for a red pen’s corrections (“Buy One, Get One, FREE”), and newspaper articles that smack us with “…there were several month’s worth of records found…”  We stumble upon captions where it looks like there are potentially missing persons involved:  “In this photo, from left, are Henry Goshow, his wife and a co-worker, Kelly Delikat, holding daughter, Paige, and Rod Goshow.” 

What is to be done? Should we editors and grammarians just stand aside and say, “Well it’s too bad, but there’s nothing we can do about it..”?    No!

The issue  needs to be addressed and the public should educate themselves in the proper use of punctuation. I shall attempt to present the history and general correct uses of punctuation here, but all concerned English-speaking persons ought to be eloquently and feelingly doing the same!

What is punctuation?

This is a good place to start. Before we even address the problem, we might as well get some background. Here is a history I found sufficient for our needs. It summarizes the history and development of punctuation neatly & succinctly:

“Punctuation in English Since 1600”

The Punctuation Marks

‘In English, the “full stop” or “period” (.) marks the end of a sentence. The “colon” (:) is at the transition point of the sentence. The “semicolon” (;) separates different clauses, or statements. The “comma” (,) separates clauses, phrases, and particles.

The “dash” (–) marks abruptness or irregularity. The “exclamation” (!) marks surprise. The “interrogation” or “query” (?) asks a question. The apostrophe (‘) marks elisions or the possessive case. “Quotes,” quotation marks, or “inverted commas” (” “) define either quoted words or words used with special emphasis or significance. Interpolations in a sentence are marked by various forms of bracket [] or parenthesis. Usage and practice vary widely, however…”

“The system of punctuation now used by writers of English has been complete since the 17th century. Three of its most important components are the space left blank between words; the indentation of the first line of a new paragraph; and the uppercase, or capital, letter written at the beginning of a sentence and at the beginning of a proper name or a title. The marks of punctuation, also known as points or stops, and the chief parts that they play in the system are as follows.

The end of a grammatically complete sentence is marked by a full point, full stop, or period. The period may also be used to mark abbreviations. The colon (:), which was once used like a full point and was followed by an uppercase letter, now serves mainly to indicate the beginning of a list, summary, or quotation. The semicolon (;) ranks halfway between a comma and a full point. It may be substituted for a period between two grammatically complete sentences that are closely connected in sense; in a long or complicated sentence, it may precede a coordinate conjunction (such as “or,” “and,” or “but”). A most usual means of indicating the syntactical turning points in a sentence, it is exposed to abuse. It may be used to separate the elements of a series, before a relative clause that does not limit or define its antecedent, in pairs to set off or isolate words or phrases, or in combination with coordinating conjunctions.

Other punctuation marks used in modern English include parentheses, which serve, like a pair of commas, to isolate a word or phrase; question, exclamation, and quotation marks; the hyphen; and the apostrophe.”(2)

Using Correct Modern Punctuation

Now we must fully realize that our language is constantly morphing & changing. The very rules we stick to today could be well nigh considered outdated tomorrow! (Well maybe it’s not quite that bad…) But anyway, it is true that your English teacher may have  led you astray into thinking that the grammar, punctuation and literature rules (she is teaching you, of course) are as fixed and immutable as the laws of the universe. Wrong-o. They don’t change as fast as the New York Times ‘Best Sellers’ list, true. But you will not be denounced from the educational world for putting your comma once in a unneeded place.

As for me, I never had a English teacher like that. However, the one I did have seemed to brilliant in making the study of English seem VERY boring, remote, and complicated. Thus, she  unknowingly compounding my classmates’ and my  own’s already held view  that maybe we ought to just leave the grammar and punctuation rules to geeks and people like her that actually had the time & head to bother about it. Wrong-o again.

Now, I love English. If the above was my opinion in the lonely white halls of high school, what changed between then and now? Precisely this:

  1. I discovered (surprise!) that not having a good working knowledge of grammar (and thus, of punctuation) makes you look stupid & illiterate. No surprise really; but it just happened to hit me one day.
  2. After that I thought, “Maybe punctuation is important after all…” I wondered how I could go about focusing on it more.eatsshootsleaves

At this step, I stumbled across books like Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss*. This Englishwoman has my hearty & full support! She makes a wonderful treatise and presents a humorous expounding of punctuation. Coming to it, I thought the book  might be a little entertaining–but it is far more than that. It must be the #1 book on punctuation out there(for those of us who aren’t college professors) .

And lastly, step three:

3.  Upon reading just a little bit about punctuation, I found myself suddenly noticing every little instance of the incorrect use of it! I was almost overnight that I changed into a punctuation-fanatic.

So now, here I am: a full-time, amateur editor. And believe me, I find plenty of opportunity for use of my newly-found abilities!

 

* http://lynnetruss.com/

(1) http://www.wikihow.com/Use-English-Punctuation-Correctly

(2) Copyright © 1994-1998 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

# 2 In Titmoss’s Grammar Series

abbrev-pic

This is a post about those tiny little abbreviations that you stumble along in your reading and that, in all probability, you have no idea what they stand for (or at least not with a certainty!)

Let me enlighten you; but first I must admit I myself did not know the exact meaning of many of these either!  Perhaps the reason they might be more unknown is because, first of all, many of them are either abbreviations of words from another language( like Latin) or the are words taken directly from another language. But, as these are pretty important to understanding everyday writing, let’s plow through them and be happy knowing that when we come out the other side, our reading will be so much clearer.

a.k.a. – denotes the abbreviation of the phrase “also known as”, or similar sayings (though not mirrored in the abbrev.) such as: alias, also called, otherwise known as, etc.

e.g.— from Latin: exempli gratia, meaning “for example”. When you read this aloud you can say “e-g”, or “for example”. (In the first post of this series, there was an example of this abbreviations use. See if you can find it!)

i.e.— This word comes from two Latin words[ id est] meaning “that is”. Other closely used meanings of this abbreviation. Include: that is, specifically, explicitly, to be exact, to be precise. When you read this word you can say “that is” or, verbalize the name of the letters “i-e.”

viz— An abbreviation of the word videlicet; which means “that is to say”, or “namely…”. It comes from Middle English (ME) and Latin (L) as a combination of vidēre “to see” and licet “it is permitted”. When you read this aloud you can say “namely…”, “viz”, or “videlicet.”

sic.—From Latin meaning, “so, thus”. [Sic] means, “intentionally so written” — and is used after a printed word or passage to indicate that it is “intended exactly as printed” or to indicate that it exactly reproduces an original.  Often put in brackets: [sic].(Many people think of this as a writer’s way of saying, “I didn’t spell that wrong; the author of the text did!” So that we know he wasn’t the illiterate one. J)

etc.  Also etcetera. From Latin [ et cetera] meaning “…and others of the same kind”, “…and so forth.” I have noticed many people pronounce this word  “EX-cetera”. That is incorrect. It is said “ET-cetera.”

footnote¹– A number found in a sentence of your reading means that the author has notes to add that are most likely found, either 1) at the bottom or side of the page, or 2) in the back of the book.

As Always,

Your Peleographer,

Titmoss


can’t…don’t…won’t…shouldn’t…shan’t…mayn’t…might’ve…should’ve…

You get the idea.

Contractions.

A short, quick way to write our most commonly used words. And nowadays no one really has much of a problem with them (we use them too much anyway to pick on them.) Yet, someone once did have a bone to pick about them.

Who was that man?

Lewis Carroll; the famous writer of Alice In Wonderland and, a jack of all-trades in the educational arena.Carroll’s biggest pet peeve in the world of punctuation was with (what he held was) our incorrect connotation of contractions. In response to critics’ objections to his ingenious modification of the contractions in his book, he said this:

[C]ritics have objected to certain innovations in spelling, such as “ca’n’t”, “wo’n’t”, “traveler.” [As opposed to what used to be traveller.] In reply, I can only plead my firm conviction that the popular usage is wrong. As to “ca’n’t”, it will not be disputed that, in all other words ending in “n’t”, these letters are an abbreviation of “not”; and it is surely absurd to suppose that, in this solitary instance, “not” is represented by “’t”! In fact, “can’t” is the proper abbreviation for “can it”, just as “is’t” is for “is it”.

It does seem pretty ridiculous doesn’t it? English-speakers reducing whole words to incorrectly assembled letters! Pah! But wait–he goes on…

Again, in “won’t”, the first apostrophe is needed, because the word “would” is here abridged to “wo”: but I hold it proper to spell “don’t” with only one apostrophe, because the word “do” is here complete. As to such words as “traveler”, I hold the correct principle to be, to double the consonant when the accent falls on that syllable; otherwise leave it single. This rule is observed in most cases (e.g. we double the “r” in “preferred”, but leave it single in “offered”), so that I am only extending, to other cases, a existing rule. I admit, however, that I do not spell “parallel” as the rule would have it; but here we are constrained, by the etymology, to insert the double “l”. (1)

As you can see, he made a big enough point of this so as to go and address the critics’ complaints of his first book (Sylvie & Bruno) in the preface of the next book (Sylvie & Bruno Continued).

Big deal, you say. And you’re right—you won’t go to jail if you write contractions either way. But let’s examine what he was saying for a moment:

Carroll held that words like “can not” should be contracted as “ca’n’t”; with the “n” in “can” being omitted and the “o” in “not” being omitted, and both replaced by an apostrophe. Hmm. Alright.

But wait…if you’ll think a moment “can not” is actually always written together as one word, “cannot.” Hmm! So actually, “cannot” could legally be written as “can’t” because the apostrophe might be taking the place of only two letters; the second “n” and the “o”.

So that might be a substantial enough defense of our common spelling of “can’t”; but what of the other contractions? Such as: won’t, don’t, shan’t?

Well. at first glance, it appears to me that our way of ‘making’ contractions is to 1) lop off the last half of the first word and 2) smash it together with the “not”, contracting the “o” with an apostrophe. See for yourself…

can’t = “can” plus “not”, minus the “no”, and an apostrophe added in its place. Two words are moved together and the apostrophe takes the place of two letters.

don’t= do + not (minus the “o” again) = do n’t which is then moved together (do->n’t) to spell: don’t.

won’t= would (minus “-uld”) + not (minus the “o”) = wo n’t (with a space)

Which is then moved together (wo->n’t) to spell: won’t.

shan’t= shall (minus the “-ll”) + not (minus the “o”) = sha n’t

Which is then moved together (sha->n’t) to spell: shan’t. Personally, I believe that this contraction (judging by the way we use the word, and say it) is an ‘evolved creature’ from the two contractions “shouldn’t” and “can’t”; as opposed to its parentage being shall and not.  It just makes more sense.[Shouldn’t + can’t= shan’t]

would’ve= would + have (minus the “ha-“) = would’ve

This seems to be the only reasonable explanation of how we English-speakers got our contractions into the state they are today.

Would you like to see my personal formula for contracting words? Go ahead give it a try & see if I’m right:

  • Cut off the tail end of the first word.
  • Remove the front end (as in should’ve, when “have” is cut to “-ve”) or the middle of the second word (like the “o” in “cannot”)
  • And then finally, (as if that’s not enough!) smash the two mangled contractions together.
  • Ta-da! You have your can’ts, should’ves, won’ts, etc.

Complicated, huh? Who knew that your most used everyday sayings are so dog-gone confusing! But I believe me, that is exactly what makes grammar so fun: there’s no end of it!

Always some new theory or controversy to debate about.

Your Peleographer,

Titmoss

 

(1) Excerpted from Lewis Carroll’s book preface to Sylvie & Bruno Continued (a little known second set of stories he wrote.

..and so, the fun hasn’t even started! (Isn’t that a lovely place to be?)

Hello there, I’m called Titmoss and I love my language, English. I love reading it, writing, it, studying it, and even–arguing about it! It is a very fun & very complicated field of study which gives me endless fascination and hours of afternoon bookwork (happily).

So, I made this blog let you join me in delving into English. I know I’m going to have  a whole lot of fun posting here about grammar, punctuation, words, language, etc, etc. and, I think you too will have just as much fun reading what I did up.

If you don’t think a whole blog devoted to this could be interesting or even that it warrants a place in blog-world–you haven’t met with the whole story. But I’ll show what I mean as we go on. ..

So, watch me for a few weeks ( follow if you like) and see just how fascinated you get with English. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the progression!

Sincerely,

The Paleographer,

Titmoss