Making a Point | David Crystal

Summary of: Making a Point: The Pernickety Story of English Punctuation
By: David Crystal

Introduction

Welcome to the fascinating world of punctuation as showcased in David Crystal’s ‘Making a Point: The Pernickety Story of English Punctuation’. In this summary, you’ll discover how punctuation has evolved over time and how it influences the way we understand and interpret written language. Delve into the history behind the spaces between words that became the norm in England around 700 AD and learn about different punctuation marks and their roles, like italics and bold type, as well as the importance of the period. This enlightening journey will make you appreciate the intricacies of punctuation and how it creatively impacts the written word.

The Evolution of Punctuation

Punctuation marks have come a long way from their inception and have become indispensable in making language clearer and more understandable. Initially, languages contained no spaces between words, but by 1100 AD, only half of inscriptions used spaces. Despite this, spaces were not necessary for comprehension since inscriptions about people and places tended to be unambiguous, and thus the words were easily understood. Now, punctuation marks are vital in reducing ambiguities and making reading more enjoyable. Punctuation can also be used to make things stand out, and quotation marks used to be the go-to punctuation used for emphasis until typographical styles like italics came into use as emphatic punctuation. Italics are slowly giving way to bold type as a way to add emphasis since more text is read on computer screens.

The Hierarchy of Punctuation

Punctuation is more than just a battlefield of opinions on how to use hyphens and semicolons. It is a hierarchy of mutually exclusive choices that include spaces, periods, colons, commas, and hyphens. Spaces are the largest divider, while periods are next in the hierarchy and divide up sentences. Punctuation marks are interconnected, meaning that any value change affects the others. Instant messaging has deviated from using periods to divide sentences, but when used, it can connote dissatisfaction, anger or exasperation.

Typo Eradication Travels

Misplaced commas and apostrophes can lead to excessive reactions, as proven by the Typo Eradication Advancement League’s nationwide trip to correct signs.

Have you ever had a friend who takes the misuse of punctuation marks personally? The Typo Eradication Advancement League certainly has. In an effort to correct typographical errors on signs across America, two of its members embarked on a year-long journey armed with White Out and markers.

As they traveled, they found that apostrophes were among the most egregious offenders in sign errors. Incensed by this incorrect usage, they “corrected” a viewing point sign at the Grand Canyon, but were met with a letter from the National Park Service upon their return home. The sign they had “fixed” was actually a historic relic, painted by the architect of the site in the 1930s.

Despite facing a $3,000 fine and a ban from national parks, the two friends were let off easily by a judge who recognized their intentions were not malicious. Interestingly enough, they were also prohibited from “correcting” any more sign typos in the future.

Their reactions may have been excessive, but theirs is not a unique story. As even Mark Twain once wrote, correct punctuation is worth fighting for.

The Unsettling Truth About Punctuation Rules

Punctuation rules have become synonymous with English language teaching. However, this approach has adverse effects on the ability to write. The unchecked history of punctuation reveals that these rules are not all grounded in truth and can lead to confusion. For example, the incorrect application of the apostrophe rule can result in misinterpretation. This was exemplified by Lloyds Bank, which had to change its name when the rule was incorrectly applied. Punctuation is flexible, and its application cannot be absolute, as it’s not impervious to exceptions. Consequently, this approach to teaching punctuation prohibits effective writing. Instead of focusing on the rules, individuals should be encouraged to perceive punctuation as an aid to communication.

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