In this day and age of texting and tweeting, lol, rotfl, and on and on, we’ve lost some touch with grammar and English. But it’s important – even valuable – and even if you don’t use it properly, you should at least understand it. And, if it makes you feel better, I’m not even interested in proper English or anything ridiculous your English teacher would approve of. This article is about bringing communication back to English writing.
When you’re talking to someone in person, you use words (one hopes, yes including deaf people), but there’s so much more going on with how you’re standing, the way you tilt your head, raise your eyebrows, inflect your voice, place your pauses, …, on and on. When you’re typing, how do you communicate any of this? The texting folk seem to think smiley faces are the answer, and they do have a place, but – if you want some real depth of expression in your writing, it’s all about the punctuation.
Notice that last sentence: — the grammar is wrong. Grammatically, My options were 2 commas or 2 dashes, not mix and match. But they’re different! A dash is a longer pause than a comma, and that’s the emphasis I needed there. There’s also a double dash — that’s an even longer pause. Now, I suppose you can add more dashes or more dots to ellipses (…), but that tends to be distracting, although I wouln’t deny that there’s a time and place for making up grammar just as there is for making up words.
Some of you might be expecting here a “guide to punctuation”, so I’ll go ahead and disappoint you. I don’t even have a link to such a system (if you’re aware of one, post a comment). The purpose here is to make you aware that outside of English class, the punctuation isn’t there because English needs punctuation, it’s there because punctuation adds the meaning that is normally placed in inflections and body language. Incidentally, this is especially true in poetry, but everything about writing is especially true about poetry because poetry is a denser, more expressive (and simultaneously less expressive) form of writing.
Using and reading punctuation is a skill like every other social skill, so don’t be surprised if it takes some practice. So the next time you’re having trouble saying just what you mean, try using better punctuation and see how far it gets you.
Part of the beauty of poetry is that it can be used to express thing that are known but not understood (see the previous article on hierarchy of thought). It also lends itself to emotional expression, which I might even put in the doubt category on most days.