I’ve been engaged in any number of discussions regarding punctuation and their use. For instance, take the poor bedgraggled and disrespected exclamation point. God love it, but it gets more than its fair share of abuse because writers use it to take the place of their writing.
“Beagle! Get me my margarita! Now!”
I felt my heart skip one beat…then two. Oh dear God, was I experiencing tequila withdrawl? Would doctors take a sample of my blood and find… blood? I knew my body better than anyone, and I knew that my circulatory system ran on tequila. I had to shout out my demands before I lost consciousness. “Beagle, get me my margarita. STAT.“
Ok, so the first sentence actually works, but think about its impact if I used exclamation points almost every other sentence. I once edited a manuscript with over five-hundred of our little pointy friend. What happened is the writer forced the poor exclamation point to do all the heavy lifting of writing. The result was that his writing was quite pedestrian because there was no show. Only tell. Hence, my second example of how you can avoid overusing punctuation while forcing yourself to be a better, clearer writer.
The flip side, of course, is under-use of punctuation. Like the poor comma. I’ve noticed over the years that my dippy/swooshy little friend has been given its walking papers. I’m from the old school, so this aberration doesn’t make me happy because it has created a lot more confusion. Let me re-read this paragraph five more times so I can figure out what the author is trying to say. A dearth of commas is not your friend. And let’s face it, commas are there to make the reading easier and clearer.
I know, the comma has been slimmed down and put on a restrictive diet in order to save money. Newspapers dropped them in order to save on space. Editors who are twelve-years-old also have dropped the comma, possibly due to the fact that the teaching of English has waned over the years. For whatever reason, commas shouldn’t be trifled with. Learn how to use them. And here’s why…