Category Archives: The English Department
I’ve been mildly obsessed with punctuation since college. Learning about what to use, and when, took time (and I still go to the guides when a heated debate of dash use erupts at the office…). How often–as with most forms of professional communication at least–less is so much more. For beginning writers, use of punctuation can be the textual equivalent to a child getting into Mommy’s makeup. But creative work? Go freaking bananas– in fact I love when I see writers and poets do cool things with astrisks and em dashes and ellipses.
Here’s my favorite scene involving the discussion of the “dot dot dot”, from one of my all-time favorite movies.
I could go on right now, about how punctuation is either a visual cue for the eye or a timing mechanism for the brain, but frankly that sounds pretty boring and not really what I wanted to talk about. Fluidity, syntax, style… got it? Moving on.
I want to talk about tattoos.
I’ve been researching my most favorite punctuation for my next ink session and came across a super cool article on rarely-used marks.
This article has a few especially cool ones… which had me saying “interrobang” repeatedly just because it’s fun to say. Naturally I had to learn more so I went to my most favorite dubious source of information, and found a fine list of punctuation and usage.
My favorites so far:
The irony mark
The astrisk… although it seems a bit fashionable at the moment.
The one I really think is cool is the hedera… Latin for “ivy”. It’s pretty and rarely seen today. Back when people actually wrote Latin, the hedera was used to block off large sections of text or long paragraphs. I studied Latin in college, but personally never came across this mark.
It’s pretty, timeless, less pedantic, and less obvious than the irony or other admittedly cool marks. There are lots of different variations too, from clean to frilly. I want one.
Now the question is… where does it go?
Sarah Fisher, zen film maker and all-around cool woman (bluelotusfilms.net), shot this little hello for me a while back. I met Sarah through Coffee & Power and we hit it off right away. I’ve pimped C&P for a while because it’s just a great idea: buy and sell small jobs from local folks and engage in your community in a new way. Promoting your small business through this space is a great concept that is proving successful, but another great thing about C&P is that you get to meet interesting, creative people.
Anyway, so here’s a bit about me beyond two dimensions. Don’t look at the messy apartment.
Oh Punctuation, how you baffle us! Your vexing ways make us say the silliest things. Sometimes coy, often confusing… you leave us sitting in from of our monitors with knitted brows, wondering what in the hell we did wrong.
Now in creative work, anything goes. Poems, short fiction… do what you like. This poem by J.P. Dancing Bear uses colons in an especially cool way. Punctuation is usually about timing… about when a reader receives an idea. “Not Persephone” uses colons to parse out moments of thought, but show how they all pull out from the first line. The effect is pretty and rather brilliant.
But in business writing the enterprise requires more thought. Proper and consistent use of punctuation affords strong, crisp writing. So for those of us who are not poets: Lisa Kusko has a super-popular blog for business writing. Her tips apply to just about anyone trying to hone their craft, or simply not sound ridiculous. Knowing what to use where and when helps, so check it out!
Overused expressions make me feral-cat crazy. They represent muddled, default thinking, and really don’t say anything important. When I read a cliche, my attention span automatically shuts down on that writer. If she doesn’t care enough to write something in an specific, clear, or original way, why should I care about the message? Perhaps at one time these phrases meant something, but in the interest of inspired communication, I hereby request that these blurbs be strip mined from the English-speaking world, stuffed into a biohazard barrel, and buried somewhere out in the Nevada desert.
1) “nip it in the bud”
I don’t like the word nip… who nips? Unless you’re a 19th century dandy boy holding a brandy snifter this phrase should be prohibited.
2) “on the same page”
As Twitter artist Kelly Oxford points out, you never want to be on the same page as someone who says “we’re on the same page.” Over-assuming and annoying.
3) “fell through the cracks”
Screams either lack of accountability or a laziness to describe what actually happened. Why not just shrug and stare at the floor instead?
4) “spinning your wheels”
Tired, and for some reason reminds me of the Flintstones.
5) “pushing the envelope”
I never understood this one so I looked it up. Turns out it has nothing to do with stationery, but is a math allusion. Math! How many times have you heard this and knew, albeit vaguely, what the person meant, even though the expression itself made no sense to you?
Dammit. Math has no place in writing. Everyone knows that…