Punctuation play

Stops, half stops, and other mysterious marks get their day I’ll bet you didn’t know that September 24 was National Punctuation Day. I didn’t—until a fellow editor sent me a little piece on apostrophes in honor of the holiday. But what a perfect occasion to post about a delightful book that has come my way … and to dream up a little contest for my readers. {10/13/13 update: winners posted below.} First, back to National Punctuation Day, which was apparently founded in 2004. I’m not sure that consecrating a day to punctuation will help writers use commas, colons, quote marks, and other typographical ephemera correctly, but I’m happy to contribute to the cause. I’ve just posted a piece by editor Laurel Shane in “Talking Syntax.”  She gives you sound advice on how to use an apostrophe. Also in the same area are two of my own articles—Punctuation Pet Peeves and a Punctuation Primer. Go nuts. If your interest in punctuation has less to do with the mechanics of sentences and more to do with the mysteries of typography, you’ll want to pick up a copy of Shady Characters, The Secret Life of Punctuation, by Keith Houston (W. W. Norton, 2013). I’m a sucker for this stuff, having first dug into it when writing Wired Style and contemplating all the fun hacker terms for thing like the number sign. If “hashtag” seems coarse to you (or too, well, Twitter), and if “ampersand” lacks the sexiness of the symbol that binds unlike things, spend some time with this book, and you’ll learn about the “octathorpe” and the “zumzy-zan.” Then there’s the ubiquitous and somewhat pedestrian “at sign”, which can also be called the “amphora.” I love that. Houston turns you on to other elegant names as well, and to the endlessly intriquing pedigrees of the marks that help us keep our rhetorical hair in place. He's written a book for devoted scribes, adamant scribblers, and those, like me, just eager for lively and literate dinner-party palaver. The editor of Shady Characters kindly gave me one copy to give away to my Sin and Syntax crew. So I’ve come up with a challenge. Go and find me the absolute worst punctuation error you can. Send  JPEGs or other quick pix to connie [at] sinandsyntax [dot] com. I will happily send a copy of book to the person who sends me the most atrocious, egregious, uproarious example of bad punctuation. Second prize is a copy of the brand-new paperback version of Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch, which will be available in stores in two weeks.  

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October 14, 2013: Announcing the winners of my contest... Our examples of bad punctuation came from Central and North America. Sarah Corbett Morgan won top prize, a copy of Shady Characters, in appreciation of a snapshot of a sign she says greets her “every time we stay at a particular hotel in San José, Costa Rica.” It’s an example of a classic apostrophe error:   1234711_10202336597962622_222519048_n               Darius Sayers and Michael Hughes will get copies of Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch. Sayers sent a snippet from Fifty Shades of Grey in which an ellipsis, a question mark, and a dash all try to dominate each other.   FIFTY SHADES OF GREYSayers commented: “I despise [writers who use] punctuation to force a reader to hear a dialect or even stuttering! Michael Hughes sent a poster of a clown that he found courtesy the web-trawlers at the Web site Dangerous Minds, “a compendium of the new and strange-new ideas, new art forms, new approaches to social issues and new finds from the outer reaches.”   funclowngjhgjgjHughes's quip about the clown poster: “Unnecessary quotation marks: enough said.”                 And, finally, a picture that drifted through my Facebook feed over the last few weeks, shared by someone whose name is lost to memory. Of course it makes fun of punctuation errors, rather than actually putting the apostrophe in the wrong place.   1382348_10201455053289783_413181059_n                     That was fun. Thanks to those who participated. Kudos to Keith Houston, for writing Shady Characters. And gratitude to his editor, Brendan Curry at W. W. Norton, who provided a copy of it for the giveaway.

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8 Responses to Punctuation play

  1. Keith Houston September 26, 2013 at 6:39 am #

    I’m honoured! I can’t wait to hear what your readers come up with.

    • sarah corbett morgan October 14, 2013 at 9:19 am #

      Hi, Keith. Yipper doodle! I had the winning entry and I am so looking forward to reading you book.

  2. Mackenzie Kelly September 29, 2013 at 8:53 am #

    It looks like parentheses rode off in the sunset.
    Mack Kelly

    • Mackenzie Kelly October 14, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

      I was alluding to a lack of () with a feint attempt at humor.
      PS I didn’t find () in the book.

  3. sarah corbett morgan October 14, 2013 at 9:15 am #

    Thanks for the opportunity to submit funky punctuation on National Punctuation Day. I am so happy that crazy sign came in first. It’s good to know that it had some positive outcome because it drives me crazy every time I see it. I am so looking forward to reading Shady Characters. Thank you, Connie, and thank you, Keith Houston!


  1. Shady Characters » It’s punctuation day (part 2)! - September 26, 2013

    […] now also chance your hand at a copy of the American edition over at Constance Hale’s blog, Sin & Syntax. Good luck! This entry was written by Keith Houston, posted on September 26, 2013 at 1:26 pm, […]

  2. Shady Characters » It’s publication day (part 2)! - September 26, 2013

    […] now also chance your hand at a copy of the American edition over at Constance Hale’s blog, Sin & Syntax. Good luck! This entry was written by Keith Houston, posted on September 26, 2013 at 1:26 pm, […]

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