Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A Note on Punctuation

My editor smothers me in letters
from angry readers who deride the
copy-edit on The Big Why. She yells
at me softly. She knows I cannot take
punishment. Dear readers of punctuation,
all the missing apostrophes are my
own doing. I fought for them. I have
a small drawer in the side of my desk
full of the black marks. Bags of them.
I just decided one day, what's up with
this symbol that tells the reader of
a contraction. That two words have
been sandwiched and a letter or two
left out. Why do I have to remind the
reader of this grammatical omission.
Okay, you say, fine. But what's with
some words having an apostrophe and
others not? This is how I decided. If
a contraction does not alter the word's
meaning (don't becomes dont) then I'll
leave out the apostrophe. If the word,
though, becomes another word (I'd becomes
Id) then I'll leave it in. Also, if the
word looks too clumsy (Theyll) I'll
leave it in. So there's a list of words.
Dont, havent, shouldnt, couldve, oclock.
They are spelled consistently (well, in
the paperback soon to arrive it's
consistent). I'm sorry if this is a
pain to the eye. I hate eye pain. But
other writers do it: look at
Cormac McCarthy's new book
No Country For Old Men. Same with
omitting inverted commas. Which is
another reason entirely. I can yam on
about that too, if you wish. But please,
let's have a vote. Who out there didnt
mind the omissions. And who among you
threw the book out the window and wrote
a letter to Anansi, to chastise them
unfairly?

11 Comments:

Anonymous Medicoremax said...

I with you on this one Mike, can I call you Mike, and if I cant, boo!? Down with grammar in general, well not all of it. Just some of it.

4:05 p.m.  
Anonymous footeprint said...

i personally didnt mind the omission(s). it caught my eye. no pain though. no coronary ruptures or retinal irritation.

i'm still waiting for a novel which rids its words of capital letters. so elitest, that capital 'i'.

as long as language conveys, it shall convey. grammer is important, but restrictive. i say, give language a free reign. let her ride where her heart desires. if she isnt understood, clarify with grunts and shrugs. or fingers where necessary.

11:53 p.m.  
Anonymous teri said...

i once dated a boy who started writing a novel in which he omitted all forms of punctuation, except for like, periods. i mean, he didn't even use commas. it was really irritating and the novel was never finished (obviously). so, sometimes that kind of punctuation thing really bothers me. but, i don't remember being fussed by it in "the big why". i think sometimes i was like "hmmm", but it didn't interrupt the flow of the sentence or anything.

12:23 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't mind the intentional lapse, but I often walk around with my shirt untucked.

8:32 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since you asked: I minded the omissions. I didn't throw the book out the window. I didn't write a letter to Anansi. If I did, I wouldn't chastise or be unfair. I would like to hear what you have to say about reasons for omitting inverted commas. I would also like to hear about wrestling naked in the wet sand.

5:13 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the last respondent that nude wrestling is better than wrestling with punctuation. Though to be fair to punctuation, it also has round & dangly bits.

7:08 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the punctuation omissions. It added a unique flavour to the book – which I loved. The book challenges perspective, so why not challenge it in as many ways as possible.

12:14 p.m.  
Anonymous Andrea said...

At first I stumbled over the lack of apostrophes in The Big Why. Then I got used to it. But it bothered me that you were obliged to leave some of them in. I quickly figured out why you'd done that, but I would find myself wondering what the word could have been confused with, and that broke the flow of my reading.

I am glad to hear the paperback is coming out. I loved the book and would like to give copies to a few people.

12:35 a.m.  
Blogger Juels said...

in messaing this is common place and i find myself enjoying the fact that i dont have to use capital letters, periods, and others. I do use dot dot dot an awful lot though - Love your blog!

12:42 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't stop at punctuation -- spelling is also passee:

  I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg The
phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid Aoccdrnig to rscheearch taem at Cmabrigde
Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the
olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.
The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs
is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod
as a wlohe. Such a cdonition is arppoiately cllaed Typoglycemia :)-

9:50 a.m.  
Anonymous Another Michael said...

Well, since you asked: I'm just into and enjoying the book immensely, and my take on the idiosyncratic punctuation is that it intrudes and draws unnecessary attention to itself. Many readers (and I'm among them) long to immerse themselves in a story, and when their train of thought is regularly derailed by the niggle of missing apostrophes then the story suffers. It's like those annoying gnats which can suck the pleasure from a picnic...

There are other battles far more worth the fighting that an attempt to single-handedly reform standard punctuation practice.

Since you asked...

1:50 p.m.  

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