September 24 is National Punctuation Day! And because of that, this week’s blog post is happening a bit sooner than expected. I don’t remember when I first became aware of National Punctuation Day, but if you’d like to read more about it, you can check out the website here. And while I do love punctuation in all of it’s forms, if it were up to me, I’d celebrate today in a way that focused on trying out new things with punctuation, which is always exciting.
The above website provides a description of the day: “a celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever-mysterious ellipsis.” I think that “ever-mysterious ellipsis” is a lovely phrasing—I kind of want to put it in a poem. And I also appreciate that “proper uses” is plural, since there is, of course, more than one “proper” use of any punctuation mark—it all depends on what you’re writing!
Many people that I talk to have favorite punctuation marks. My own favorite used to be the semicolon, as I think I’ve mentioned here before. I do still love it, but lately, I find myself going to the colon for doing much more than setting up lists. I’ve also had a on-again-off-again love affair with the em-dash. And of course, it all depends on context: I’m much more likely to go to an em-dash in a poem.
Every now and again in the course of teaching and tutoring, a writer that I’m working with will tell me that they’ve been encouraged to not use semicolons (or another “unnecessary” punctuation mark) because they’ll use it incorrectly. This always makes me very sad! Please use these so-called unnecessary punctuation choices like semicolons, colons, em-dashes, etc.. When I began thinking about punctuation as rhetorical choice and not just as a necessary component of writing, I felt so empowered.
And let’s not forget some of the “new” punctuation marks that we may have been seeing, such as the interrobang, the irony mark, and the snark mark. Some of these aren’t as new as we might think: the idea of the irony mark was introduced in the nineteenth century. And if you’d like to learn even more about irony in punctuation, Maria Popova of Brain Pickings discusses it at fascinating length in “Ironic Serif: A Brief History of Typographic Snark and the Failed Crusade for an Irony Mark.” I don’t know how many of these I would use or how often, but I would certainly try them all if for now other reason but to see how I felt about them. How else can you know?
A few years ago, I ended a composition class by saying, “Go forth and punctuate!” That is, I think, my favorite thing that I’ve ever said in a classroom setting to date. That’s what today should be all about: whether you’re punctuating something you’re writing by using a colon, semicolon, or the “ever-mysterious ellipsis,” I hope you all enjoy the day and say something new!