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Today's quote:

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

"I was working on one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again!"


When punctuation began, it was mainly to help people read out loud. Until a few hundred years ago, not many people were taught to read (nothing much has changed, it seems), so there was a lot more reading out loud by the few who could.

To help these out-loud readers in the ancient world, signs known as 'points' were added to pages of writing. A bit like all those notation marks in music that show you when to bang the piano really loudly, or when to play very, very slowly, these points told readers when to pause, what to emphasise, and when to take a breath.

Our friends far away in the hills behind Nelligen, Steve and Dot, have just put their property for sale on the internet. Their agent must have become breathless by the sheer beauty of the place because he blurted out 275 words with no more than five commas and six full-stops - two reserved for his shortest sentence, "inspection [sic] by appointment".


The original advertisement


Not being quite sure whether to capitalise the first letter after each of the six full-stops, he also very cunningly capitalised only three of them and used lower case on the three others. (He also hedged his bets - that is, his apostrophes - with "it's" and "its") Perhaps he ought to have imitated the 18th-century American Timothy Dexter who hated punctuation so much that he included a separate page of full-stops and commas in a booklet he had published and invited his readers to sprinkle them, like salt and pepper, wherever they wanted.

I've been a Victor Borge fan since my articled years in Germany in the early '60s when I had to dictate all typing directly into a "GRUNDIG Stenorette", complete with punctuation (or compleat, if you like, since I also had to spell out difficult words, of which there were many in actuarial science). This early experience turned me into a bit of an Oscar Wilde who once said, "I was working on one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again."

Googlemap Riverbend


P.S. Two books on punctuation: "Eats, Roots and Leaves" by Nicholas Waters, and Lynn Truss's sanitised version Eats, Shoots & Leaves".

P.P.S. Correct punctuation also aids longevity as demonstrated by Victor Borge who lived to the age of 91.