It’s been a while since I attended school, but I often wonder if punctuation is still taught. Available evidence suggests not.
As far as I can glean from friends who are teachers, however, they would dearly love to spend more time on the basics of English. But the curriculum doesn’t allow this. I shake my head with rue, but not disbelief.
Punctuation is vital. It clarifies, it eases understanding. Everyone will be familiar with the old joke about the difference between a man eating chicken and a man-eating chicken.
I have several pet hates about the misuse, or often complete lack, of punctuation. I’m surprised at how many people don’t know that a colon shouldn’t be followed by a capital letter unless a proper noun or acronym is then used, or a full sentence. A colon is a grammatical equals sign. “I bought ingredients for a sandwich: cheese, sliced cheese, cream cheese, and chunks of cheese.”
A nervous tic affects the corner of my eye if I see a list that doesn’t include an Oxford comma.
“I’ll send a Christmas card to the Courier editor, the best friend of Sturgeon and Salmond” is a sentence that could be confused. After publishing his latest book, I’m not sure the Courier editor actually is best friends with Nicola and Alex. A comma after Sturgeon changes the meaning entirely.
Punctuation evolves, of course. Fewer commas are used nowadays. This could be dangerous if we cut and paste kids. Surely it is better to cut and paste, kids?
I have often spluttered my ire at the vandalism done with apostrophes in plurals. But recently I have been developing a new bete noire: hyphen misuse.
In a compound modifier, hyphens are needed. But only when the modifier comes before the word it modifies. “Mother-of-nine Mary” needs hyphens. “Mary, a mother of nine” has enough to keep her busy without burdening her further with hyphens.
A compound modifier is two or more words that function like one. A hyphen is required. A long-suffering husband is different from a long suffering husband.
Most incredible of all, I have espied questions (or at least I think they are questions) without a question mark. I am incredulous at the notion there are people who grew up using the English language but don’t know what a question mark is for.
What is to become of us?
Word of the week
Glady, willingly. EG: “I’d as lief run out of petrol as sit in a panic-stricken queue for two hours”.
Read the latest Oh my word! every Saturday in The Courier. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org