Does punctuation still matter?
Is it cool to leave apostrophes out? Does a missing comma matter? With the rise of social media, emojis and large-scale acceptance of an urban dictionary, it leaves me wondering if the importance of grammar and punctuation has been taken down a peg or two.
But, a missing comma, or an errant apostrophe, not only drives grammar sticklers to despair, it can change the meaning of a sentence completely. In 2003, Lynne Truss’s book on accurate punctuation was lauded by all those with a zero tolerance approach to punctuation cock-ups.
Eats, Shoots and Leaves is a celebration of the correct use of colons, apostrophes and semicolons. The title itself is an example of how poor punctuation can dramatically change the meaning of a sentence. Rather than a description of a typical panda’s food intake, an added comma creates a scenario where a panda walks into a café, orders a sandwich, draws a gun and fires two shots into the air.
How does your punctuation stand up? When promoting the book on a TV programme, Truss set fellow guests a punctuation test. Have a go (answer below):
The princess dress isnt looking its best lets phone Harrods and ask for the ladies department
Being one of those punctuation sticklers, I got ten out of ten. It would be wrong to add an emoji here.
I’m not sure what Lynne Truss would make of a new word describing an avid punctuation vigilante doing the rounds in Bristol, but I’m sure she would approve of his actions. The ‘Apostrophiser’ cares so much about grammar, he has been skulking around the streets late at night correcting poor punctuation on shop fronts and signs.
He refers to himself as a grammar vigilante. In an interview with Radio 4 he asked for his identity to be kept secret in case shop owners and business owners in Bristol took offence to his positive graffiti. Why does he do it? Because missing or wrongly placed apostrophes just really annoy him. He started his campaign of correction when he saw a council sign saying “open Monday’s to Friday’s” so he scratched the apostrophes off.
It’s a shame his work doesn’t extend to T-Shirts. Topshop are the latest in a long line of businesses to make a grammatical blunder. We all make typos and grammatical mistakes from time to time, but how on earth did Topshop manage to sell a T-Shirt with a missing apostrophe on it without anyone noticing the mistake throughout the entire manufacturing and marketing process? The T-Shirt exclaims: “its not you its me”.
To add insult to injury, grammar perfectionists are having to endure the evolution of urban slang. One of the latest additions to the urban dictionary, ‘pho queue’ (the queue formed outside of a Vietnamese restaurant in anticipation of its noodle soup) could get you in a whole load of trouble! I’m just saying.
While punctuation anarchists continue to aggravate, some of us still see proper punctuation as the Holy Grail for good writing. Why disgust a proportion of your readers when you don’t need to? Sloppy punctuation in content not only defiles your message, it also says you don’t care.
Your readers may dismiss your work as poor quality if you cannot grasp basic English. Poorly punctuated content will always make you wonder whether the author is poorly educated or just too lazy to write properly. Either way, it doesn’t give the reader confidence in you or your message.
A woman without her man is nothing.
A woman: without her, man is nothing.
“The criminal,” says the judge, “should be hanged.”
The criminal says the judge should be hanged.
I rest my case.
Here’s the punctuation test answer:
The princess’s dress isn’t looking its best; let’s phone Harrods and ask for the ladies’ department.