Make My Day
PUNCTUATION STICKLERS UNITE
by Erik Deckers
American Reporter Humor Writer
SYRACUSE, Ind. -- Punctuation miscreants, beware. There's a new punctuation book in town, called "Eats Shoots and Leaves," by British punctuation stickler, Lynn Truss. She condemns the illiterate, stupid, and greengrocers of the world, who misuse and abuse proper punctuation.
You know the ones. These are the people who put apostrophes in things like "DVD's," "1970's," or "it's" for the possessive of "it." They misplace commas, and are never sure if they mean "woman, without her, man is helpless" or "woman, without her man, is helpless."
Truss rails against them and urges the grammar mavens of the world to rise up in protest against the slow tortuous death of the English language.
"Sticklers unite, you have nothing to lose but your sense of proportion, and arguably you didn't have a lot of that to begin with," she admonishes us.
Maybe she's right. We don't have a sense of proportion. It's not a big deal if people write things like "i'ts" or "your on fire," right? I mean, there are more important things in life to worry about, and this is just a teeny-tiny little problem that is hardly worth our attention.
So why is it like fingers on a chalkboard to some of us? What is it about a misplaced apostrophe, a missing hyphen, or those people who refer to this ... as "dot dot dot" instead of "ellipsis" that sets our teeth on edge?
Self-satisfaction is part of it. We feel good about ourselves. There's just something gratifying about feeling smarter than other people.
Oh, I know. Were not supposed to feel that way. Everyone is equal and no one is better than everyone else, right? Then why did you feel a smug little spark of victory when you discovered I missed the apostrophe in "we're" in the second sentence of this paragraph?
See what I mean?
We also feel a sense of belonging. We're in a special club. A club made up of people who know things that others don't, like the true name of "dot dot dot," or what an Oxford comma is. (It's the last comma before "and," as in "gold, silver, and bronze.")
I, for one, love the "Oxford comma." I have lived and died by that little comma for years. Most journalists ignore it, some editors have been known to draw and quarter writers for using it, but I have stuck to my guns. I even got into a heated argument with my college newspaper editor about it. Just knowing that this particular comma has a name makes it even more special. And it makes me a charter member of the know-it-all club.
Of course, there are some people who look down on us punctuation sticklers as dorks in dire need of better sense of proportion.
"Get a life," they hiss at us. "God, who cares?" they ask mockingly.
I saw a t-shirt with "your retarded" written on the front. When someone would comment on the error - it should say "you're retarded" - the slack-jawed, mouth-breathing wearer could then point out that the other person was the retarded one, because they didn't get the joke.
Personally, I think it was a mistake by the dunderheaded moron who wrote the t-shirt, but didn't realize his gaffe until it was too late.
"Hey, I know," he said to himself, between bites of Ramen noodles, as he watched professional wrestling on tv, "I'll say it's a joke and make the smart people feel dumb." He then nearly choked to death on a Ramen noodle, because he was breathing through his mouth and chewing at the same time.
Oftentimes, punctuation sticklers are hurt and confused by other people's unwillingness to learn basic punctuation rules. "We're only trying to make you a better person!" we wail.
These anti-punctuation snobs are just jealous. They're jealous of our rapier punctuation wit and our ease at spotting errata they otherwise missed. At least that's what my mom would say. She often said things like this when I was a young boy, which was particularly helpful at times, like when mean kids made fun of my pants.
Unfortunately, our efforts are often unappreciated or wasted, which is a shame, because the scoffer only ends up looking like more of a moron than they already did.
I remember several years ago, driving past a local printing company whose billboard advertised for a press operator position. "Experience nesessary," the sign said. I called them and pointed out the error. After all, a printing company should be able to spell correctly, right?
"You need a 'C' in necessary," I told the woman on the other end. She thanked me rather snottily, and said someone would fix it. I could hear the "get a life" undertone in her voice.
Given all the stories I had heard about this particular company, I wasn't too surprised the next day when I saw the correction they had made.
Now who's the dork?