Saturday, August 7, 2010

Personality & Punctuation

A repost [lost this entry on the blog, for some reason] 

I tend to overuse the ellipsis when I chat on social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.  It's almost as though I am saying, "I would go on, but I wouldn't want to bother you."  I suppose this is fine when it comes to Twitter, given the strict word count limitation, but what about in general?  What impression is my use of the ... really making?  Is it a passive punctuation mark?

Only a crazy person (writer) would think of such things, eh?  Well, thinking I am, and I've set out to assign what I've assigned a characteristic and brief sketch to chosen punctuation marks.  (See below.)
ASTUTE One of my favorites.  This is the philosopher's dream, the essayist's humility, the short story writer's nemesis, the poet's luxury.  The question mark is not adaptable; it must be used with care.
STRONG MINDED Anyone who says they don't like seeing exclamation points, or that they are a sign of laziness needs to read Nabokov's "Signs and Symbols."  Exclamation points are fiery and strong.
LOGICAL The sign of lists and emphasis.  This sign would best be described as focused, the clarifying element in many a sentence.
MISUNDERSTOOD Ah, the semicolon.  Here, I must digress.  Kurt Vonnegut is famous for saying the following: "Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college." 

Great quote, but total bullshit.  The semicolon is beautiful, the epitome of a soft pause that gives cadence to an otherwise abrupt shift in ongoing thought.  The semicolon is delicate and necessary and, if not overused, the most romantic of punctuation marks.
BORING The en dash is rather boring.  The quiet kid at the party, who is only there because s/he's related to someone or is rich/famous/attractive, but is hopelessly ordinary on a personal level.  It's only use is connecting others: numbers, dates or references.
OUTRAGEOUS The em dash is the quiet kid's cousin.  The one that's throwing the party.  Usually drunk and reckless, this is a punctuation mark that is often over-used by those who are over-confident.  Nonetheless, if used properly, it's magical and intoxicating to readers.  The em dash is what makes a 200 word sentence possible.
( ) 
SECRETIVE Should probably be used more often.
[ ]  
ANXIOUS When I see these, I think math.  So, I will not go on.  Brackets = Anxiety.
. . .  
PASSIVE  It says, "please forgive me, I will not go on..."
FAMOUS The comma needs no introduction.  She's famous, notorious, loved, misunderstood, passed around, worried over, and she breaks many an editor's heart.
The period means nothing, or near nothing, to me. It is merely a way to make my rambling self seem more deliberate.

So there you have it.  Punctuation, as this writer sees it.  I can't help but to wonder how this perception changes from writer to writer?  Please, feel free to challenge me or give opinions of your own.  I'm genuinely curious.


  1. I love this post. Wonderful analysis. I often use parenthesis (to reflect an aside in a hushed tone) I use exclamation points often when commenting on other's work, but sparingly in my own work so as not to dilute them! But the commas, they are my guilty pleasure.

  2. Intriguing and witty post. The only definition that gave me serious pause was... the ellipsis. Mysterious and thought-provoking. Engaging; asking the reader to finish your thought or reply. Also a bridge to a laugh or emoticon.

  3. I adore this! It is a delight and I absolutely agree with your assessments.

    I will happily share it with many others. Thank you, Jen!

  4. Love your comment on the semicolon.

  5. hahaha!! What a wonderfully creative post :) This is great! I'll have to share this.


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