The Quotable, the Abbreviated & the
Exception All Vie for the Apostrophe
We should’ve seen this quote-unquote quagmire coming, one would’ve guessed. Some obscure government agency, with a surprisingly slasher’s appetite for apostrophes in geographic names, has banned its use for 113 years, with only five meager exceptions.
Such discriminative zeal has driven self-appointed ‘punctuationists’ to many exclamation marks, preceded by a ‘W,’ a ‘T,’ and a ‘F,’ no dots included. But it’s not even new: the Web already ignores it, and it’s more commonly misplaced than a comma or a semicolon.
But before we get to the latest fracas, let’s review these landposts that can guide or derail communication. In language, music or measure, either written, for breathing or clarifying pauses, they may as well be the edge we still have over the droning of robots and computer-generated speech. But we may have already lost that one.
We mentioned the comma, for instance, fully aware of how dear they’re to linguists and grammarians of almost all tongues. It’s actually amazing how such a small curvy mark can originate so many treatises of its use, praise from academics, and frustration by students, and we’re not even getting into the pompously named Oxford comma.
Then there are the marks that some languages like so much as to place them in the beginning and the end of a sentence, as the Spanish does with the exclamation and the interrogation points. With the added sophistication that they appear upside down, on their second time around. Such a twisted Latin passion, you may wonder.
Albeit often laid at the feet or side of letters, no punctuation above the mores of our times, helping contract full sentences and complex meanings into a few strategically arranged typos. Or go the other way, and get spelled out as a word, as in the case of the arguably most disconcerting of them all: the slash.
Thus, much more could be noted about these ‘accidents’ on the road to understand each other, or completely miss the point. We’d rather Continue reading