Monday, July 29, 2013

Proper Punctuation

If there's one thing you learn about me from the hallowed archives of this blog, be it that I am an avid researcher of esoteric tidbits. This trait is amplified when the subject pertains to writing or literature.

As former NJCL President and current owner of this blog Elliot posted on his Facebook in the wee hours of the morning, "I just found out that the city of Liège was spelled Liége until September 17, 1946, when the accent was officially changed from an acute to a grave, and nothing could possibly be more fascinating." (I smiled to myself upon reading it, too.)

That's my life in a nutshell. The very least I can do to make the hours spent trawling through the source links of Wikipedia article after Wikipedia article worthwhile is write about itand yes, this sentence led me to Google "trawling vs. trolling" (and, yes, I have used the correct word). In case the structure of that last sentences confuses or annoys the reader, let me explain: one of the most frequent topics subjected to my inane research is correct uses of esoteric or commonly abused punctuation.

It always starts with a question. I am a devout fan of jumbled, quirky, or structurally peculiar sentences. (I am also a fan of the Oxford comma, so pry it from my cold, dead, and stubbornly typing fingers.) Often, and especially concerning blog posts or other informal writing, I find I have too many varied ideas to fit into one regularly-constructed sentence, so I employ a vast arsenal of punctuation ammo to help me piece together sentences that seem schizophrenic in their subject.

In my younger days, this usually meant sentences swollen with commas and running off into the distance cackling madly. Now, I have dashes, ellipses, parentheses, square brackets, semi-colons; very few sentences escape without at least one of their number tagging on an unrelated idea, unnecessary expansion, or snide remark. It's a problem. I'm seeking help.

In the meantime, however, I figured the least I could do to make my habit as unobtrusive as possible in my writing was to learn how to wield my weapons wisely-- and correctly. For instance, until a couple of months ago, I erroneously used hyphens to denote dashes (-- or —). Though I can't remember a time, I'm sure I used to place punctuation on the wrong side of parentheses (it goes on the outside if it's a partial sentence). I only confirmed my knowledge of square brackets this very afternoon.

Google, like most users of the Internet, is my friend when I need answers on these questions, and mostly I defer to The Chicago Manual of Style or Purdue OWL to make sure I am following proper convention for my area.

Often it is a simple rule, but even the simple uses of punctuation work wonders to drive a muddled sentence towards clarity and focus. And what is writing but a convening of sentences?  If a beautiful building is composed of shoddy bricks, the whole beautiful mess will come crashing down.

There is a lesson to be learned here, readers: if you are going to write with abandon-- and I wholly encourage doing so-- please, do it with correctly.

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