So I feel like doing another rant, and here’s the basis of it: punctuation and grammar. Really. Is it really that difficult to do one’s best not to mangle one’s native language? And I’m not talking about those obscure rules that no one really gives a damn about save for maybe a professor or two. It frustrates me, perhaps since I am a writer and language is my tool of choice, to the point that I kind of want to shout at the next ignorant person to misuse a word or punctuation mark–perhaps in something similar to Herr Starr’s immortal freak-out: “IMPROPER USE OF INVERTED COMMAS, HOOVER!” Admittedly, that character of the violent and darkly hilarious comic, Preacher, had all but lost his mind at that point, but whatever.
Yet, at the same time, I don’t really want everyone to follow the rules of grammar and punctuation. Those who don’t leave behind sometimes amusing results.
Those signs that say “Slow children walking” are great, for example. Are we to drive slowly to avoid hitting children, or are we to be warned that some particularly cognitively disadvantaged children are out and about? The difference lies in the placement of a comma, which should be there, but isn’t.
It reminds me of that old joke about the pandas. For those unfamiliar: two pandas walk into a restaurant and order food. When they finish, they produce guns, and begin firing at the other customers. A horrified survivor runs over to them and asks, “Why did you do it?” By way of reply, the pandas pull out a pamphlet from the zoo, and point to the panda section, which reads, “Eats, shoots, and leaves.” The joke is, of course, that the second comma should not be there.
And then there’s the frequent abuse of quotation marks. Good god, people. Why do so many sign-makers feel the need to place seemingly arbitrary words in quotations? I was in the library the other day, and a handwritten sign reminded the library’s patrons to be “quiet.” So, what exactly is that supposed to mean? Are we not really meant to be quiet?
Hell, there’s a whole page on TV Tropes dedicated to amusing instances of abuse to punctuation–mostly in published works, nonetheless.
So, I’ll close with a few general rules:
1) Commas generally go where there’s a brief pause. If you can read the sentence aloud without a pause and it doesn’t sound strange, you likely don’t need a comma.
2) Think carefully about where you place quotations. If you are writing a sign reminding people to keep quiet in a library, odds are that you don’t need quotations.
3) Apostrophes generally are used to show possession. NOT PLURALITY. Hence, “John’s apples” is fine, but “John’s apple’s” is just obnoxiously wrong.
So, follow those rules, and you should be fine. And that’s all I have to say about punctuation.