Saturday, 1 March 2014

We need more dancing dots

Some time ago, I blogged about commas. About how I have no idea where they're meant to go, and how a fair proportion of my writing time (and even more of my editing time) is spent moving the pesky little blighters around. And don't get me started on colons and semicolons, and the differences between em and en dashes.

This got me thinking (I know - pretty much everything gets me thinking. It's an affliction.) about the whole point of punctuation anyway, and about what we could do with all those confusing dancing dots. And that's when I began to think that maybe the problem isn't so much a lack of clarity in how to use the dancing dots, but that maybe we just don't have enough dancing dots to play with.

Consider this situation, which you've probably experienced multiple times (I know I have). You feel like there's a slight pause in a sentence, but you're not sure it merits a comma. Maybe what we need is something new here. A new punctuation mark that is a sort of "maybe-comma", that you can put in if you're not sure if a full comma is required. We could call it a "momma" for short.

And what about that all too common situation where you have no idea if you need a comma or a colon or a semi-colon. How about we have something new that splits the difference. Whenever you're torn between which of these complicated symbols to add, just chuck in a semi-comma-colon. Solves the problems in one, making life easy for any writer. 

I could go on and on listing further potential additions to our punctuation repertoire. Questionation marks for when you want to combine a question and an exclamation. Double double quotes for when two people are speaking at the same time. The list is endless.

Anyway, till next week, I'll keep on fighting my battle to increase the number of dancing dots. If anyone out there has any suggestions, please let me know.


  1. People have been dreaming up new punctuation marks for years. Some are serious, others not so much. Since we’re fighting a losing battle hanging onto the few we have—I’ve just read a novel by Herta Müller where she abandons not only quotes but question marks (but not semicolons and colons)—I think we need to work simply to hang onto what we have at the moment. Proper punctuation needs to be taught at school. I can only recall one teacher during my primary school years—Primary Six to be precise—whose thing was grammar and I am so grateful to her for taking the time and making us understand how sentences are structured but one year was nowhere near enough.

    1. Hi Jim, thanks for your comment. After posting this, I was intrigued to discover that my idea for a hybrid question/exclamation mark had already been done - apparently it's called an interrobang?!