Punctuation is the system of symbols that we use to separate written sentences and parts of sentences, and to make their meaning clear. Each symbol is called a “punctuation mark”.
All writing is a representation of the spoken word (not vice versa). To a large extent, punctuation mimics certain non-verbal elements of speech such as pauses, intonation and volume, all of which convey meaning. In general, punctuation helps to establish the structure and logic of the written word. Without punctuation, much writing would be open to multiple interpretations.
The importance of and rules of punctuation vary from language to language. In English, punctuation is essential to allow the reader to understand the writer’s meaning.
Nowadays, however, it’s very common to misuse – or even not to use at all – any kind of punctuation. That’s because people often send messages in a hurry and don’t think they need “to waste time” using it. So, my fellow instant messengers, do you still think that punctuation is unimportant–that commas, colons, and similar squiggles are just pesky reminders of a bygone era?
If so, here are a cautionary tale that just may change your mind.
The story begins with an email that John received one day from his new girlfriend. Consider how pleased he must have felt to read this note from Jane:
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy–will you let me be yours?
Unfortunately, John was far from pleased. In fact, he was heartbroken. You see, John was familiar with Jane’s peculiar ways of misusing punctuation marks. And so to decipher the true meaning of her email, he had to re-read it with the marks altered:
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?