It;s National Punctuation! Day?

When I taught writing in after-school programs in Harlem three years ago, my colleagues and I began our lessons on punctuation with a dramatic proposition: punctuation saves lives. 

Consider "Let's eat, Grandma!" vs. "Let's eat Grandma!" 

The students either chuckled or rolled their eyes (with more doing the latter if memory serves), but our main point came across. As this fun little viral example and the tragically real life sign above proves, punctuation is not just important in communication, it's vital.  

Today is the 13th Annual National Punctuation Day, a celebration of all the ways the period, comma, exclamation point, semi-colon, colon, and their ilk allow us to effectively get our points across to one another. 

In her popular book Eats, Shoots & Leaves (which in itself is somewhat maddening for American readers as it follows British punctuation styles, with PERIODS OUTSIDE OF QUOTATION MARKS), Lynne Truss uses the analogy of punctuation as a "courtesy designed to help readers to understand a story without stumbling." She goes on: 

Isn't the analogy with good manners perfect? Truly good manners are invisible: they ease the way for others without drawing attention to themselves. It is no accident that the word "punctilious" ("attentive to formality or etiquette") comes from the same original root word as punctuation. As we shall see, the practice of "pointing" our writing has always been offered in a spirit of helpfulness, to underline meaning and prevent awkward misunderstanding between writer and reader. 

I feel that in the age of Twitter and Facebook, where opinions and thoughts are written in seconds and broadcast around the world, standards for proper grammar and punctuation are slipping and it's even more important for us to mind our periods and commas. 

In honor of today, check out this fantastic piece by David Foster Wallace on grammar and usage. 

Happy Punctuation Day!