Punctuation kills

by Lorin Michel Thursday, September 11, 2014 10:26 PM

I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer. But I see typos everywhere. I see bad grammar, horrible sentence structure, misuse of punctuation. It’s reached near epidemic levels. Many people blame teachers, and they may share some responsibility. Some people blame parents, and I believe that many simply don’t get involved enough in their children’s education. Or they lack basic grammar skills themselves so it becomes a case of the blind leading the near sighted. Most point the finger at smart phones, text messaging and Twitter. After all, being able to communicate in 140 characters or less is evidently excruciatingly important. It also necessitates a truncation of words. But I think blaming those things is too easy. I think it’s a function of laziness.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like being lazy as much as the next person. There’s nothing better than wiling away several hours under a beach umbrella, snoozing in the warmth of a beautiful day. Or sleeping in. Going for a long ride on the motorcycle that goes nowhere and everywhere all at once. Some see lazy but I might argue that where some people see laziness, others see people doing things they enjoy.

There is, however, a vast lack of intellectual curiosity that borders on criminal, at least to my overworked brain. I do not now claim nor have I ever claimed to be intellectually superior. But I do expect that functioning adults know the proper use of a comma, a colon, a semi-colon, and the almighty apostrophe.

It was this thought that occurred to me this morning as I walked the dog past our local Urgent Care center. This the UC where we shuffled one Sunday morning about two months ago when my husband was nearly paralyzed with back pain. This is the facility that we walk by twice each day, a little red-furred boy prancing through the grass to pee on the big tree in front of the building. Each time we do, I notice the banner than hangs on the front of the building, next to the huge orange Urgent Care sign that illuminates each night at sunset. The banner is essentially a big help wanted sign. It’s asking for experienced DR’s and PA’s. Every time I see it, I cringe. Every time I read it, my English degree frays a bit at the corners.

Doctors and Physician’s Assistants are not possessive; they are plural. This is one of the most common grammar mistakes. Right up there with when to use it’s and its; or the proper there, their, they’re; the correct your and you’re.

I always thought these things were taught beginning in elementary school. I hoped that kids had these basics drilled into them in high school. I know, in actual fact, that they are not. When Justin came to live with us his grasp of the basics of proper English grammar and punctuation was astonishingly poor. He didn’t seem to realize that a sentence could not begin with “2 who it may concern,” anymore than it could state “I am going 2 the grocery store.” Most of his sentences that didn’t begin with 2 began with well, as in “well, here’s what I have 2 say.” When I read his papers, my eyes hurt and my brain wept. I didn’t want him to feel demoralized, but I knew that in the high school he was attending, which ranked 96th in the country, he could not write like that. Many battles later, and with the help of his teachers, he seemed to finally get it. Today, even his text messages are proper English. He won’t even use emoticons, and instead prefers to just type ha ha instead of a smiley face.

Grammar and spelling and punctuation are as key to a civilized society as basic laws. The rules of how to use the proper word and the proper contractions are important. I don’t think it’s just because I am a writer that I believe this. I think that most people agree. It’s just basic knowledge. It matters.

I am reminded of a sign I’ve seen. It involves someone’s grandmother and either calling her to dinner or eating her for dinner. It made me realize that punctuation kills. It kills opportunity, it kills creativity, it kills knowledge, it kills wisdom. It kills possibility. And, evidently, it kills older relatives. I will remember to remind Justin of that when he’s home next week, especially since I plan to be living it out loud, and punctuating accordingly, for a long time.

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