Eat, Shoots & Leaves

Sunny-Side-Up is a new weekly column celebrating clear blue skies, fancy bookmarks and the snooze button. In other words, expect book/film reviews, DIY crafts and easy recipes for a lovely weekend.

While we look in horror at a badly punctuated sign, the world carries on around us, blind to our plight. We are like the little boy in The Sixth Sense who can see dead people, except that we can see dead punctuation.

I must confess: I am a stickler. Since young, I’ve been pointing out bad punctuation, misspelt words and ungrammatical sentences. And my friends would roll their eyes, thinking, “There she goes again.”

But I couldn’t help it! Those glaring mistakes would sneak up any corner just to pounce on me like jack-in-the-box. Just this morning I spotted capitalization blunders on Pepper Lunch’s MRT ad. So, yes, I do feel like the little boy in The Sixth Sense.

That’s always been the problem for sticklers, you see. The feeling of isolation. The feeling of nerdishness. One solitary obsessive, feebly armed with an apostrophe on a stick, will never have the nerve to demonstrate outside Warner Brothers on the issue of Two Weeks Notice.

A heresy since the 13th century, this law states that a balance exists in nature: “For every apostrophe omitted from an it’s, there is an extra one put into an its.” Thus the number of apostrophes in circulation remains constant, even if this means we have double the reason to go and bang our heads against a wall.

Well, if you’re like me, you’d find consolation in this humorous book by fellow stickler Lynne Truss. But being a true-blue sticker, that also means you might not agree with everything she says.

Because language isn’t science, it can’t be forced upon any fixed law. It is living and evolving with every growing use, so the rules of the past may not apply today. And there’s always the issue of practicality, like how it’s stated in the AP guidebook that all commas and full-stops should be neatly tucked inside any quoted speech.

But of course, the rules that still apply should be applied appropriately.

“Why did you have a comma in the sentence, ‘After dinner, the men went into the living-room’?”
“This particular comma,” Thurber explained, “was Ross’ way of giving the men time to push back their chairs and stand up.”

On the page, punctuation performs its grammatical function, but in the mind of the reader it does more than that. It tells the reader how to hum the tune.


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