I love punctuation. It’s great to see punctuation on a freshly printed page and just go to town on it.
Recently, I’ve taken to instructing on the correct usage of the semicolon; I inform good friends, acquaintances of five minutes and people walking on the other side of the street. It’s actually a lot of fun.
Some people, however, think punctuation is a complete waste of time. They say it’s old, it’s irrelevant and we need to shift our “prose” writing to be more like texting. John McWhorter of The New Republic recently wrote an article titled “The Foolish, Malicious War on Apostrophe’s” that crystallizes this phenomenon.
Let me give you an example of the anarchy advocated in this article: If I caved and did not write my columns with any distinctions other than spaces my sentences would not make any sense in fact it pains me to write this sentence now
Imagine reading (or writing) a 15-page research paper without punctuation’s convenient conventions. It would be a madhouse. The practical reasons for keeping punctuation in academic writing are easily accessible.
However, the description of “Othello” in a research paper is completely different than the artistic notions that most poets and other literary types follow when they create art with language. They might say language is “constrictive” in its attempts to prescribe literal or figurative meaning.
Until we grow some of those Avatar ponytails, we’re out of luck and will just have to use language to communicate our nearest and dearest thoughts and feelings.
By understanding that the “confines” of grammar can actually transform artistic expression, we could embrace instead of eschew this tool to use in creative writing and communication.
A precisely placed comma or a ticklishly turned apostrophe will communicate a meaning far greater than any words can. Why not just allow a rule to exist and understand that the rules can help while maintaining a consistent and orderly system of language?
While destroying grammar seems to be the thing to do these days, it seems like more can be gained from its correct usage than its elimination.
Now, I’m writing this assuming that everyone will use grammar correctly. Unfortunately, we know that’s not the case.
Students of any language should be educated not only on how to use grammar but why we use it.
This instruction will lead to better writers. You can’t just give people rules to follow and then not educate them on the issues. That makes for a disastrous implementation and frustration on all parts.
Language, like any social construction, has rules that must be followed for it to be applied. Unlike any other social construction, however, the widest possible audience must understand language. We can’t just throw down our pens and run into the forest, looking for “free expression.”
Language must work inside rules to create a level playing field so that everyone can understand. When punctuation creates a canvas for expression, the artist can paint a masterwork using his or her language.
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