Today is National Punctuation Day in the USA, sorry, the U.S.A. It’s the ninth annual celebration of accentuation; a chance to pay homage to the humble hyphen.


Its official website bills the pedants’ party (assuming there’s more than one pedant) as “a chance to remind America that a semicolon is not a surgical procedure”. This seems both ironic and timely, given that these days punctuation is a pain in the arse.

I’m a fan of punctuation. When I proposed to my wife I paid the skywriter extra to include the question mark.

But as time passes and language evolves it seems that punctuation is becoming less important, more a chance for Generation X to tut-tut and lament Generation Y.

There’s a sign on my walk to work that reads: Breakfast Special – bacon, eggs, toast and tomato’s. Does it matter that the apostrophe shouldn’t be there? It’s a regular old plural rather than the possessive. (Well, I’m assuming it’s plural, though it is only $8.50, so perhaps it’s the singular.)

That’s not the point, however. The meaning of the sign is clear regardless of the minor mistake. Context almost always makes the meaning clear, whether it’s the most common you’re/your mistake or it/it’s, which, let’s face it, when we’re firing off emails at the speed of sound we can all be guilty of from time to time.

So, should punctuation exist or would it make life easier for all concerned if we simply did away with it? 

Answers on a postcard, paying particular attention to punctuation, naturally.

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59 comments

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    • fml says:

      10:52am | 24/09/12

      Punctuation will evolve into what is easier to understand, fighting to keep correct spelling is a losing battle. Middle English is different to current english for that very reason.

      Soon we will be all taking in textin’ language.

      R u 4 Reelz, T0t3s aM, buddi.

    • Greg says:

      02:34pm | 24/09/12

      If you think that you’re probably over 50 years old.

      http://xkcd.com/1083/

    • fml says:

      02:44pm | 24/09/12

      Ahhh xkcd.

      How many hrs have I wasted on you. T0tes.

    • Tubesteak says:

      10:56am | 24/09/12

      “Its official website bills”

      I believe, in this context, that “[I]ts” is possessive and therefore it should have an apostrophe.

      I also believe that context is not always obvious. Sometimes omitting/including an apostrophe, or using incorrect grammar, makes it more diffcult to discern the point of the communication.

      Moreover, there’s the fact that I immediately assume that the author is a moron when they use incorrect grammar and practically ignore whatever it is they’re writing. I’m not going to waste time on someone’s thoughts when it’s pretty clear that person probably isn’t capable of the most intelligent thoughts deduced from their poor grammar.

      A few typos or mistakes are fine. I can forgive that. But when it becomes persistent is when I tune out.

    • Chris says:

      11:08am | 24/09/12

      Tube - the possessive “its” has no apostrophe.

      C

    • iansand says:

      11:11am | 24/09/12

      You are wrong about its.

      What do they teach young people in school these days?

    • Em says:

      11:29am | 24/09/12

      Tube is correct the possessive ‘its’ never has an apostrophe.  The only time it does is when it is (it’s) a contraction.

    • MK says:

      12:03pm | 24/09/12

      Tube is incorrect.

      “Its” is possessive.
      “it’s” is a contraction.

      The article demonstrated correct usage.

    • Movin On says:

      12:24pm | 24/09/12

      But what about the apostrophe of possession?

    • Chris says:

      12:38pm | 24/09/12

      Logic would dictate that the possessive “its” (the dog buried its bone) should have an apostrophe, but convention dictates that it doesn’t. There’s no reason for it; it just doesn’t have one.

    • Greg says:

      12:52pm | 24/09/12

      The only thing better than a grammar nazi, is an incorrect grammar nazi.

      I especially liked the part where you went on to berate everyone about their grammar after being incorrect yourself.

    • Hase says:

      01:12pm | 24/09/12

      Possessive pronouns do not have apostrophes:  Ours, yours, his hers, theirs, its.

    • Warren says:

      01:13pm | 24/09/12

      @Tubesteak. Not only are you wrong but you didn’t even bother the read the content of the link you provided. Now I’m tuning out.

    • Greg says:

      02:20pm | 24/09/12

      keep digging Tubesteak, maybe try reading your links next time.
      Here is the part you should focus on

      Possessive personal pronouns, serving as either noun-equivalents or adjective-equivalents, do not use an apostrophe, even when they end in s. The complete list of those ending in the letter s or the corresponding sound /s/ or /z/ but not taking an apostrophe is ours, yours, his, hers, its, theirs, and whose.

    • Terry2 says:

      02:22pm | 24/09/12

      It’s the dog’s bone isn’t it ?

    • JoniM says:

      02:34pm | 24/09/12

      Ah ! Whatever !
      Half the joint can’t even speak English let alone punctuate it !

    • Al says:

      03:00pm | 24/09/12

      I think people may find that originaly (well, once grammer was standardised anyway) both required an apostrophe, it was the placement that was different:
      - It’s (contraction).
      - Its’ (possessive).
      Now the convention is that for the possive the apostrophe is not needed and has actualy led to confusion.

    • Kika says:

      04:26pm | 24/09/12

      It’s is actually IT IS = contraction of ‘it’ and ‘is’.

      ‘Its’ is correct.

    • Arnold Layne says:

      10:58am | 24/09/12

      The language could and should continue to evolve.  There does need, however, to be an “official” or “high” form of the language so we have some level of continuity and consistency to the written form at the very least.  Perhaps we should be more protective of the language like the French are of theirs.

    • Laura says:

      11:02am | 24/09/12

      As a Gen Y grammar enthusiast, I must interject and state that most of my frustration stems from Gen X offenders.

    • Chris says:

      11:05am | 24/09/12

      Regrettably, context does not always make the meaning clear.

      Many years ago, legal documents used to be produced without punctuation.  Reading them now and trying to interpret them can degerate into unnecessary disputes that could have been solved through the use of modern punctuation, paragraphing and setout.

      OK - in the case of a tomato it’s a bit of a no brainer.  But that doesn’t mean it is in every context.

      The death of correct punctuation, while arguably inevitable, will cause problems - maybe not social ones, but certainly legal ones (which is where I work - and so I care).

      Linked to that is, of course, the death of spelling and the ability to use a broader cross section of the English language which we purport to speak and write in this country.  Instead we will all tend towards a dumbed down version of language that is incapable of deep expression, subtlety or nuance.  I find that a difficult truth to accept, and will encourage people to work against that trend at every available opportunity.

      C

    • subotic G Orwell says:

      11:22am | 24/09/12

      Ah, the destruction of language.

      It’s a beautiful thing, right Winston?

    • fml says:

      11:42am | 24/09/12

      Chill, Winston.

    • david says:

      11:31am | 24/09/12

      If it is private communication I have no issue with it. Professional writers and journalists, however, should always get it right. It amazes me how often journalists get it wrong. This is from Fox Sports today:

      “In one of the most open Brownlow Medal races in recent history so who will be crowned the AFL’s best?”

      Is this laziness, inattention or lack of writing skills? Either way it reflects badly on Fox and journalism standards in general.

    • NathanA says:

      11:34am | 24/09/12

      I can understand mistakes in punctuation when sending a message, an email to a friend, or commenting on a blog — but if you’re writing something in a professional context (including a sign advertising the breakfast special), then you really should stop being lazy and do it right. Incorrect apostrophe and quotation mark usage is everywhere, and they’re pretty easy rules to follow. I’d love for the greater population to understand the differences between a hyphen, a minus, an en dash and an em dash, but sadly I don’t hold out much hope.

    • P. Walker says:

      11:37am | 24/09/12

      My bug bear is the new word “alot”.
      Alot of items belonging to aboy can be atoy truck, abat and possibly aball.
      Why is it so hard?

    • P. Walker says:

      03:27pm | 24/09/12

      Hilarious Greg, I hadn’t seen that before.  Perhaps the usual “alot:” commentators can take note?
      Don’t know how many times one impolitely picks some person up on their “alot”, they don’t seem to have the ability to learn.
      I have their names in my head, and enjoy the illiteracy from them.  It’s not about smugness, its just that we are suppose to be getting smarter with all the help at hand!

    • Geronimo says:

      11:45am | 24/09/12

      I think it is an absolute tragedy for grammar, elucidation and quality CDF the Abbott insists on prefixing every nonsensical sentence he utters with the oxymoron, “I think…”.

    • PsychoHyena says:

      11:50am | 24/09/12

      Technically the apostrophe in “tomato’s” is because they are omitting the ‘e’ between ‘o’ and ‘s’. It’s a rare use of the apostrophe but not incorrect.

    • NigelC says:

      12:37pm | 24/09/12

      That’s a joke right? Putting an ‘e’ at the end of tomato would indeed be a rare use.

    • P. Walker says:

      12:04pm | 24/09/12

      Forget the tomatoes, it those signs that claim “free range eggs”, then the bloody farmer wants you to pay for the range eggs.

    • nihonin says:

      12:09pm | 24/09/12

      I’m always curious when the sign says ‘stable manure’, are there two kinds?  What happens if you accidentally buy the wrong one, does it explode?

    • daf says:

      03:10pm | 24/09/12

      @ nihonin - yep, it does explode.  You may be interested to know that the word ‘shit’ evolved from the time when absolutely everything was moved by ship, including dried poo for fertilizer.  Problem was when it got wet down in the bottom of the hold, gas built up, crewman pops in with a lantern to check on things and kaboom!  Thereafter, dried poo was marked
      Stow
      High
      In
      Transit
      smile

    • nihonin says:

      03:26pm | 24/09/12

      Interesting, thanks daf, learn something new everyday.  Cheers.

    • Jason Todd says:

      05:34pm | 24/09/12

      Sorry Daf.  False acronym. Much like “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” or “Fornication under consent of the King”, “To Insure Promptness”, “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden”, they may make for good stories, but they are unsupported by the facts.

      In the case of the word shit, the word itself predates the common use of acronyms by hundreds of years, has cognates in other languages and the etymology of the word does not support the formation of the acronym. Not to mention that there has yet to be one verifiable record, shipping manifest or log that mentions it.

      I think the acronym may be manure. The more you know.

      http://www.etymonline.com/baloney.php

    • OddCreature says:

      12:14pm | 24/09/12

      Of course grammar is important! To quote a few cliches I’ve seen float around Facebook….

      “Helping your Uncle Jack off a horse” vs “helping your uncle jack off a horse”
      “Stop clubbing baby seals” vs “stop clubbing, baby seals”
      “Knowing your shit” vs “knowing you’re shit”

      Of course we can forgive the occasional slip up, people make mistakes and even spell check isn’t flawless, but we can’t just let go of it completely. It serves a purpose.

      Two other lessons in the English language I’d like to share with you all:

      Bought vs brought. One means you have paid money for something, the other does not. If you are trying to tell me that you have purchased something then the correct word is bought, not brought.

      Woman vs Women. No one seems to struggle with the concept than man is singular and men is plural, but add the letters W and O to the start and suddenly everyone gets confused. It’s exactly the same, womAn is singular, womEn is plural.

    • Gordon says:

      01:37pm | 24/09/12

      “bought Vs brought” ...who, who in God’s cherished green anglosphere actually confuses these words?

      I had a teacher once bang on for a whole lesson about “Tied V Tired”. We all looked at each thinking y"our problem sweetheart, not ours”.

      Where does woman and women get mixed up? I can’t think of a single example.

    • Ben C says:

      02:07pm | 24/09/12

      @ Gordon

      “Where does woman and women get mixed up?”

      It’s happened in numerous comments sections on this site alone.

    • Podge says:

      12:18pm | 24/09/12

      their comes a point were no matter the context propper spelling and puncuation much be applied because things like comment posts for example will not only make little to no sense but also are almost impossible to read without loosing you’re mind completely…....................................

    • Geronimo says:

      12:20pm | 24/09/12

      The Opportunistic Deputy Sheriff, dedicated to the survival of Precise American Grammar, replied with, “good grub for me True Believers” when Dubya proclaimed, “If you teach a child to read, he or her will be able to pass a Literary Test”.

    • Chris says:

      12:47pm | 24/09/12

      there’s really no need for a capital letter at the start of a sentence. it’s perfectly obvious that it’s the first sentence in a paragraph or that a new sentence has begun. if we are throwing out punctuation marks for no other reason than people’s inability to use and understand them, we should make other changes, too. one such change would be the removal of capitals at the start of sentences.

    • Greg says:

      12:55pm | 24/09/12

      An interesting thought I have heard to try and fix the issue with young people’s spelling, is to make text messages free for everyone.  However you get charged for all one letter words that aren’t I or A.

    • Zeta says:

      12:57pm | 24/09/12

      I wouldn’t mind getting rid of a lot of punctuation. I find myself more and more eschewing apostrophes in private correspondence and replacing them with dashes and ‘…’ to denote pauses in my train of thought. I mean - what is punctuation after all if not a form of control. Abandoning conventional sentence structure, punctuation, grammar and syntax is rebellion. The semi-colon in particular is like a grammatical weapon of mass destruction pointed at the faces of English teachers around the world – it dares to ask; where is your God now?

      The problem is, I think, that schools teach kids to write and then they teach them to jam punctuation and grammar into their sentences afterwards. There’s too much emphasis on what sounds right and not enough on what sounds good. Meanwhile, the people who make up the curriculum are so desperate to find things to mark that that they ignore any kind of innate literary skill and get pedantic with where you squiggle a little mark above your s’s.

    • Chris says:

      02:12pm | 24/09/12

      “It dares to ask: where is your God now?”
      A colon is required here, as it forms a divide between that which is proposed and that which answers.
      I want to ask this: here’s what I ask.
      The set-up: the response.

    • NigelC says:

      02:49pm | 24/09/12

      So what are dashes and ellipses if not punctuation marks?

    • Tim the Toolman says:

      12:59pm | 24/09/12

      ” Does it matter that the apostrophe shouldn’t be there?”

      Do what I do.  Correct the sign (if written in chalk).

    • Knemon says:

      01:03pm | 24/09/12

      My grammar and punctuation is poor, the only thing that annoys me is when people use space exclamation mark or space question mark but they don’t use space full stop…it doesn’t make sense…woe is me and my first world problems…I do like using dots though…

    • Bethany says:

      01:09pm | 24/09/12

      The headline of today’s lead article: ‘How much should you get for running a girl’s school?’ Srsly.

    • SimpleSimon says:

      01:37pm | 24/09/12

      “Wombat: Eats, roots and leaves”

    • Robert S McCormick says:

      02:07pm | 24/09/12

      “Tomato’s” with that apostrophe indicates that there is something which belongs to that Tomato. (eg. The tomato’s skin is red)
      It most certainly, other than possibly in the U.S.A. where the bastardisation of English is almost complete, is not the plural of Tomato. The plural is “Tomatoes” (eg. Tomatoes are red)
      Am I being pedantic? Yes, I am. However, before we learnt English all those years ago, we had to learn the one language which is responsible for so many English words: Latin. In doing so we also learnt to spell.

    • Brett says:

      02:11pm | 24/09/12

      Sorry, but you’re all wrong about the apostrophe.  What it *really* means is:
          “Warning!  An ‘S’ is coming!”

      Once you under’stand thi’s it all become’s clear.

    • Kika says:

      04:27pm | 24/09/12

      Bad grammar and spelling infuriates me. I can’t stand it. It takes no extra time to use and it makes your sentences clear and intelligible. Especially if you are trying to make a point on the punch - your whole argument can fall over from incorrect use of English.

    • P. Walker says:

      04:52pm | 24/09/12

      Absolutely Kika, everytime I recognise bad grammar or incorrect spelling its like a pothole has appear in front of my path, and I need to take a breath.

    • Scotchfinger says:

      04:58pm | 24/09/12

      me think you rong spelling for me is pore but everione nows what my point is ! just becase you went to uni you think better you? rong rong RONG!!

    • P. Walker says:

      05:20pm | 24/09/12

      Ha ha, “appeared”, dohhh!

    • P. Walker says:

      06:10pm | 24/09/12

      Scotchfinger, uni?  No never been mate.  One does not need uni for basic English.

 

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