Punctuation is the spice of life

Published 10:45 am Monday, December 17, 2018

Punctuation: a vital necessity when putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, depending on your method). There are four different kinds of punctuation marks in that opening sentence alone. We probably don’t even think much about using them when we write. They’re either so ingrained in our habits that we stick them in automatically, or we forgo them altogether just to save some time.

Nevertheless, I really like punctuation. As I mentioned in my Oxford comma column several months ago, punctuation marks really help with clarity. Isn’t it nice to read something and not have to scratch your head to figure out what the writer meant? Or maybe that’s just the grammar nerd in me?

We should all be familiar (if we had a halfway decent English teacher in school) with the common ones like periods, question marks, and commas. The punctuation fun continues with apostrophes, parentheses, quotation marks, colons, hyphens, and much more. I’m particularly fond of using em dashes—that’s the long dash you see marking this part of the sentence—so I use them quite frequently. I just think they’re fun and also more emphatic than parentheses.

But the fun doesn’t just stop there. English has plenty of other lesser used punctuation marks that look strange and have cool names too. Have you ever heard of the interrobang? It’s an exclamation mark and a question mark squished together into one super punctuation mark and it looks like this: ‽

How about the dagger? Doesn’t that sound dangerous? Despite the name, the dagger is usually reserved for footnotes at the bottom of a page if you’ve already used an asterisk and want to switch it up. It looks like this: † or ‡

If you’ve read legal stuff before, you’ve probably seen the section sign to mark different passages of a document. Sadly, “section sign” is not an exciting name at all. On the bright side though, it looks super fancy: §

And then there’s the pilcrow. Those familiar with editing will recognize the symbol as the one which says you need to start a new paragraph. You may remember your English teacher writing it on your paper in school when you started getting too rambly. Or maybe that was just me? Anyway, it looks like this: ¶

This is all well and good for people fond of linguistics, but everyone else can play around with punctuation too without having to know the proper function of each mark. How? By using the symbols to make faces! 🙂

With smartphones all having emojis now, we don’t really have a need to use punctuation marks to recreate different facial expressions. But I still like to do it.

There are Western (like America and Europe) style emoticons and Eastern (like China and Japan) style ones. Most Western emoticons force you to tilt you head sideways to see the face, like >:[ or 😉

Eastern ones, however, require no head tilts and can get quite elaborate. Here are a few examples: (>_<) (~_~;) *\(^_^)/*

My personal favorite of all is the “ascii shrug.” Technically, it uses a Japanese character so it’s not 100 percent punctuation. But we’ll let that slide. It’s worth taking the time to copy/paste it into something to express that certain emotion. It looks like this: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So now that you’ve read this column, feel free to use as many new punctuation marks as possible! It can be like tossing in a little bit of spice to make your writing more exciting. And if you read to the end of this and didn’t enjoy it, then I only have one response:



Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or by phone at 252-332-7206.