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National Punctuation Day

National Punctuation Day – as the sharp-eyed among you will have realised from the two serial/Oxford commas in the mission statement above – is an American invention.

‘A celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semi colons, and the ever-mysterious ellipsis.’

National Punctuation Day – as the sharp-eyed among you will have realised from the two serial/Oxford commas in the mission statement above – is an American invention. It was founded in 2004 by Jeff Rubin whose colourful website features ‘Punctuation Playtime’ programmes for elementary schools, advice on how to celebrate National Punctuation Day and a range of merchandise bearing slogans such as, ‘A semicolon is not a surgical procedure’ and ‘Is there a hyphen in anal-retentive?’

The ‘lowly’ comma! – incidentally, that would be the perfect place to use the interrobang should it ever appear on the laptop keyboard. The comma may be lowly, though that’s a matter of opinion, but commas, and punctuation generally, like grammar, excite strong feelings. [Too many commas, please reword. Ed.]

Here’s Gertrude Stein in Lectures in America:

‘Commas are servile and they have no life of their own… A comma by helping you along and holding your coat for you and putting on your shoes keeps you from living your life as actively as you should lead it.’

George Bernard Shaw was particularly exercised by the apostrophe and several of his plays were published without using any, except to clarify words such as he’ll/hell and we’ll/well. He wrote:

‘There is not the faintest reason for persisting in the ugly and silly trick of peppering pages with these uncouth bacilli.’

More recently, in an article in The Week (18 September 2013) entitled ‘Kill the Apostrophe!’ (but not the exclamation mark, evidently), James Harbeck said:

‘Apostrophes do have one consistent function: The grammar griper brigade likes to use them as the tips on their cats-o-nine-tails.’

Accuracy Matters could celebrate Punctuation Day by redesigning its logo so that ‘The Prooofreading People’ becomes the rather more edgy ‘The Grammar Griper Brigade’. It will come as no surprise to Mr Harbeck if I say that we’ll be using cats-o’-nine-tails.

Other writers have had an altogether more relaxed attitude to punctuation. Here’s Lord Byron writing to his publisher in August 1813:

‘Dear Sir,— I have looked over and corrected one proof, but not so carefully (God knows if you can read it through, but I can’t) as to preclude your eye from discovering some omission of mine or commission of y’e Printer. If you have patience, look it over. Do you know any body who can stop – I mean point-commas, and so forth? for I am, I hear, a sad hand at your punctuation.’

Charlotte Brontë, too, relied on her publisher, writing in September 1847:

‘I have to thank you for punctuating the sheets before sending them to me as I found the task very puzzling – and besides I consider your mode of punctuation a great deal more correct and rational than my own.’

Whether you belong to the griper brigade or think it’s a lot of fuss about nothing, the last word on punctuation should really go to Edgar Allan Poe:

‘The writer who neglects punctuation, or mispunctuates, is liable to be misunderstood.’

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