National Punctuation Day: Why We Need Punctuation

Today is National Punctuation Day, a celebration of the humble signs on the road to communication and understanding. Which raises an interesting question:

In this age of 140 characters or less age, what use is proper punctuation?

Plenty, of course. We tweet, we post, we publish our words in 140 characters or less. We’re even starting to think in 140 characters or less. Punctuation is useless. Dead. Right? Wrong. Even on the shortest roads, you need a speed limit and a direction. Here are just a few directions punctuation gives us:

Periods tell you to stop.
Exclamations shout to you.
Question marks query you.
Commas give you pause, separate lists, and oh so much more.
Quotation marks give due.
Dash give larger pauses.
Hyphens group things together.
Parenthesis let you go down that rabbit hole.
Ellipses let you trail off…

Without punctuation, our writing would be like traipsing through the wilderness, no path in sight:

Microwave beaming of satellite collected solar energy to earth for conversion to useful industrial power is evaluated for feasibility with attention given to system efficiencies and costs ecological impact hardware to be employed available options for energy conversion and transmission and orbiting and assembly Advantages of such a power generation and conversion system are listed plausible techniques for conversion of solar energy thermionic thermal electric photovoltaic and transmission to earth lasers arrays of mirrors microwave beams are compared Structural fatigue likely to result from brief daily eclipses 55% system efficiency at the present state of the art present projections of system costs and projected economic implications of the technology are assessed Two stage orbiting and assembly plans are described

Add the punctuation, and suddenly you’re driving on smooth asphalt, arriving at your destination knowing where you are and where you’ve been:

Microwave beaming of satellite-collected solar energy to earth for conversion to useful industrial power is evaluated for feasibility, with attention given to system efficiencies and costs, ecological impact, hardware to be employed, available options for energy conversion and transmission, and orbiting and assembly. Advantages of such a power generation and conversion system are listed, plausible techniques for conversion of solar energy (thermionic, thermal electric, photovoltaic) and transmission to earth (lasers, arrays of mirrors, microwave beams) are compared. Structural fatigue likely to result from brief daily eclipses, 55% system efficiency at the present state of the art, present projections of system costs, and projected economic implications of the technology are assessed. Two-stage orbiting and assembly plans are described.

And let’s not forget that punctuation can save lives:

Commas Save Lives

I’ll celebrate National Punctuation Day by holding another contest. Sign up to receive my blog posts in your inbox by 11:59 pm (Eastern) today (September 24, 2010), and I’ll choose one new subscriber at random to receive this cool T-shirt. You’ll learn lots about punctuation (and grammar in general) and maybe even save a life.

Happy National Punctuation Day!

About Erin Brenner

With a BA and an MA in English, Erin has been an editing professional for 15 years, working on a variety of media, especially online. Her niche is business/marketing and online. In addition, she has experience teaching editing to non-editors and coaching writers. In 2008, Erin was bitten by the social media bug...hard. Follow her on Twitter, @ebrenner, and get a daily vocabulary word, a link to the article of the day, and much more. You can also find her on Facebook and LinkedIn.
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