Wednesday, July 22, 2009


A friend of mine, Victor Banis, passed me these notes from THE SYMPHONY OF PUNCTUATION by Noah Lukeman. I thought some of you might find it as interesting as I did.

Two principles to keep in mind:

1.) There is great merit in punctuating scarcely, only when you absolutely must. Just as word economy should be strived for, so should punctuation economy.

2.) Let your punctuation unfold organically, as the text demands. Never use punctuation to rescue a poorly constructed sentence...more likely than not, you will need to rewrite, not repunctuate. The sentence itself must do the work.

Punctuating masterfully is an ongoing struggle, and the destination will always be somewhere off on the horizon. But it is a worthwhile journey.

The world of punctuation is a complex one, each mark having its own needs and rules. Some marks will complement each other, and at other times will be in conflict. Punctuation marks are skittish. A rock isn't needed for a ripple effect--a pebble is. Grasping how to use a mark in its own right is difficult enough; mastering how to use it in the context of the content, and in the context of all other punctuation marks, is a lifetime endeavor. When we look at punctuation collectively, we begin to see that punctuation marks, in the right hands, can truly bring out the best in one another. We begin to see that punctuation marks by themselves are like colors in a palette; it is only in the collectie that they become what they are meant to be (to illustrate, the author here uses a lovely passage from Forster's A Passage to India) "Houses do fall, people are drowned and left rotting, but the general outline of the town persists, swelling here, shrinking there, like some low but indestructible form of life."
...Forster uses commas to capture the feeling of a town ebbing and flowing; he also gives us a long sentence, asking us to take it all in at of all he is subtle; the punctuation weaves its way seamlessly through the text, might even be missed if you weren't looking for it.

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