Thursday 30 July 2015

Punctuation or The importance of getting it write

Grammar and punctuation... two words that split the nation. From the Philistines at one extreme who say "Who cares? Whats the point?" (pun intended) to the Purists at the other who shiver at the thought of using a hyphen instead of a dash and endlessly debate the use of the Oxford comma.

Most of us do our best to muddle through but the advent of text messaging – removing most of the vowels making a few words of English look like ancient Klingon – has done much for tipping the scales in favour of the Philistine cause.

And whether you are asking hunters to "Please Use Caution When Hunting Pedestrians Using Walk Trails", informing the public that "No Trespassing Violators Will Be Prosecuted" or reading that the latest celebrity will tell us how they "find inspiration in cooking their family and their dog", remember, they are two powerful words that could change your life. (Ducks as the Purists throw a fit at starting that sentence with a conjunction!)

Knowing just where to put that little mark could make a big difference as the tale below, related in the Dublin Penny Journal over 180 years ago, shows:

Want of Point, a Nice Point.

An ingenious expedient was devised to save a prisoner charged with robbery, in the Criminal Court at Dublin. The principal thing that appeared in evidence against him was a confession alleged to have been made by him at the police office. The document purporting to contain this self-criminating acknowledgment, was produced by the officer, and the following passage was read from it.
"Mangan said he never robbed but twice
 Said it was Crawford."
This it will he observed has no mark of the writer's having any notion of punctuation, but the meaning he attached to it was that
"Mangan said he never robbed but twice:
 Said it was Crawford."
Mr. O'Gorman, the counsel for the prisoner, begged to look at the paper. He perused it, and rather astonished the peace officer by asserting, that so far from its proving the man's guilt it established his innocence. "This," said the learned gentleman, "is the fair and obvious reading of the sentence:
"Mangan said be never robbed;
 But twice said it was Crawford."
This interpretation had its effect on the jury, and the man was acquitted.

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