Friday is National Punctuation Day
The apostrophe is the most misused.
St. Petersburg Times
Friday is National Punctuation Day.
Many of us are worried already. As a former English teacher and copy editor, I despair for humanity when I open an e-mail that bristles with so many exclamation points I can hardly make out the words between them. And those are just the news releases about library events.
Just last week, Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten declared the English language dead, the coup de grace delivered by an unnecessary apostrophe.
But don't bury English yet. People are fighting to revive its proper use. National Punctuation Day was the brainchild of Jeff Rubin, a California newsletter writer who founded it in 2004 as "a celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever-mysterious ellipsis."
Rubin and his wife, Norma, maintain a website, nationalpunctuationday.com.
Then there is Jeff Deck's mission to bring America back to perfect punctuation, at least in public. "It's a question of people building their apostrophic confidence," says Deck, co-author of "The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World One Correction at a Time."
Deck, 30, an editor who lives in New Hampshire, has a hands-on approach to raising awareness of poor punctuation. A couple of years ago, he and his friend Benjamin Herson, a bookseller, set off on a 2 ½-month road trip in search of errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar in public signs.
The most common punctuation error? "The poor apostrophe is the most misused and put-upon. People are always throwing it into words where it's not needed, especially plurals," Deck says, citing signs directing people to "Restroom's" and offering "Apple's for sale."
"Almost as common is the apostrophe being left out where it's needed.
Deck doesn't blame vanishing punctuation skills on e-mail and texting, saying those modes of communication "get a bad rap. It's very easy to blame them."
Roy Peter Clark loves punctuation so much that the cover of his new book, "The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English," features a giant golden semicolon. The senior scholar at the Poynter Institute devotes several chapters to punctuation, emphasizing what a valuable tool it can be.
In "Reclaim the exclamation point," he lays out the parameters of opinion on that exuberant but controversial mark. On the one hand, master thriller author Elmore Leonard tells him, "You are allowed only three in every one hundred thousand words of prose." On the other, a friend sends Clark an e-mail with a six-word sentence followed by 11 exclamation points.
I'm on Team Leonard, but Clark is somewhere between the two extremes, calling the exclamation point "the thinking writer's emoticon." Clearly it's a mark of punctuation he favors: "My next book is called 'Help! for Writers.' "
Colette Bancroft can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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