The point about punctuation

When paper was newly-invented, but portable ink pens weren’t, some tidy-minded scribe possibly found that the easiest way to divide up the groups of words or glyphs into sensible and useful collections was to punch a hole in the paper at the end. It was a pretty sharp way of making your mark in the writing trade… especially after all that sticky clay…

However, that little hole – a puncture – gave us the group name for all of the marks that we use in English to help keep the words in order and, hopefully, unambiguous in meaning. The word is, of course, punctuation.

Most of the marks used weren’t devised by scholars working to a plan. They were inventions of printers and are products of a mechanical age which began accelerating from the 15th century CE, and which isn’t finished yet.

It’s worth remembering that we don’t speak with punctuation. We use tone, cadence, rhythm, volume, and a lot more besides to communicate our ideas via voice. Punctuation is our attempt to bring to life our written words. Ignoring punctuation collapses and randomises our ideas back into words of indifferent meaning. We ignore the effects of those little marks on the page at our peril.

The major accepted marks are: full stop (period or dot) [. ]; colon [: ]; semi-colon [; ]; comma [, ]; quotation marks [” ” or ‘ ‘ ]; question mark [? ]; exclamation mark [! ]; apostrophe [‘ ].

Marks which are still in transit to acceptance include: dash [ – ]; asterisk [*]; forms of emphasis such as bold, underline and italic; bullet points; and, surprisingly, the virgule [ / ], which kind of began the whole thing at the dawn of moveable type, is making a comeback too.

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