I’ve been thinking about punctuation and its endless rules, but it’s so boring that I find myself falling asleep in a nonce. (I’m not exactly sure what a “nonce” is, but I’m going to assume that it’s a comfortable, overstuffed armchair with lots of pillows and an inviting throw spread artfully over the arm.)
Period. Comma. Semi-colon. Colon. Quotation mark. Question Mark. Exclamation Point. Parenthesis. Ellipses. Hyphen. Yawn. Even their names are boring and I find myself heading directly over to my nonce. Maybe if they had cooler names associated with personalities we could all identify with… Hmmmm…
The period is bold, aggressive, fiercely committed. We shall call it Arnold The Terminator.
The comma is a much-maligned punctuation mark. It is over-used, under-used and nearly always abused. Although serving an important function, it is always over-shadowed by the flashier, more charismatic Arnold The Terminator. We shall call it Dan Quayle.
The semi-colon, composed of a period AND a comma, is schizophrenic, considered less important than Arnold The Terminator but way more important than Dan Quayle, but at any given moment, in a flash, could transform either into an Arnold The Terminator or Dan Quayle. We shall call the semi-colon Al Gore.
The colon announces that a list or group is following, so pay attention. Consider it the drum major, all spiffed up in a colorful, bedazzled uniform with gold braid and epaulettes smartly marching in front of the band. We shall call it John Philip Souza.
The question mark is a curious sort. Why is the sky blue? How are babies made? Why do they put all those cards in my magazine that always fall out and scatter to the four corners of the room? That could be any normal four-year-old. Instead, though, we’ll name it Alex Trebak, the host of TV’s “Jeopardy.”
The exclamation point is noisy, bossy and annoying. You could name almost any politician or televangelist. Instead, I opted for the AFLAC goose of TV commercial fame. AFLAC!
Quotation marks are the quintessential multi-taskers. They are used for dialogue within novels so the reader will know someone is yammering away; titles of things are often set within quotation marks so you will know the title as already been taken. You might want to call that civil war novel you’re writing something other than “Gone with the Wind;” they are also used to set off something clever, witty or profound that someone else has said. (Goodness, that poor little semi-colon certainly had a workout). You might try to pass the quotation off as your own, but that is considered very bad form indeed. Assuming you’re going to do the honorable thing, you will place the quote within quotation marks. If you’re going to do the dishonorable thing, lose the quotation marks. I thought long and hard about what to name the quotation mark as there are so many quotatable authors out there. Shakespeare springs to mind. As does Oscar Wilde. But then I read this quote: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Yes, yes, that is profound. We shall therefore call quotation marks Mark Twain.
The parenthesis allows the writer to explain something that doesn’t quite fit in with his theme. It allows us to be sloppy and make the reader think we are far more organized than we really are. The left and right parenthesis are endlessly attractive with their sweeping left or right curve. For instance, you could write “Actors Angelina Jolie (also an ambassador for the UNICEF) and Brad Pitt have adopted their third child from a third world nation.” So, let’s call the left parenthesis Brad and the right one Angelina.
Most people have never heard of an ellipsis. They either respond with “Solar ellipsis?” or “lunar ellipsis?” Or else they think it’s some torture device used in a gym. No, no, it consists of three little periods (or Arnold The Terminators), indicating either that words have been eliminated or, more commonly, an unfinished thought. I use them a lot. Because there are always three of them, no matter how unfinished the thought, we shall call them the Three Stooges. And, by the way, it isn’t that my thoughts are exactly unfinished; it’s more like they are unformed and completely out of place.
The hyphen is often used to set off a parenthetical phrase. For instance, you could write, “A Maltese Terrier – a familiar dog at the Westminister Show – is neither Maltese nor a terrier.” It seems to me that a Dan Quayle or even a Brad and Angelina could work just as well. So I would dub this useless, frivolous, redundant mark a Paris Hilton.
Exhausted from this mental travail dan quayle I make my way over brad in a southerly direction angelina to my nonce dan quayle where a stack of books awaits me johnphilip souza marktwain Curious George danquayle marktwain marktwain Silas Marner danquayle marktwain marktwain Military Innovation In the Interwar Period marktwain danquayle marktwain brad Isn’t that a snappy title alex trebeck AFLAC angelina are awaiting me arnoldtheterminator. Hmmm threestooges.