By Gerald Warfield | Special to the Index
Oh my, and she is such a nice old lady, too. But wait, perhaps we can save her! Yes, a comma right after “eat” should do the trick. “Let’s eat, grandma.” Much better.
The need for punctuation is not always so urgent, but from its first appearance, almost 3,000 years ago, its purpose was always clarity. The earliest writing systems, hieroglyphics and cuneiform, did not use punctuation. It was probably the Phoenicians who invented it, along with the alphabet. The first example we have is on a stone tablet commemorating the victory of the Moabites over the Israelites carved in 840 BC. It was written using the Phoenician alphabet, and it employed horizontal strokes to indicate the grouping of words. Later, the ancient Greeks used dots for punctuation, a dot on the base line, a dot midway up, and a raised dot roughly equivalent to the colon, comma and period.
Now, here’s the rub. Scholars have claimed that these early markings were used by Greek playwrights, such as Euripides and Aristophanes, to indicate to the actors when to pause, and today’s punctuation is, by extension, for the same purpose, namely, to indicate pauses.
But it ain’t so. Punctuation indicates structure. It divides strings of words into sentences, clauses and phrases. Take the comma, the most controversial of these markings. You might pause at a comma, but then again, you might not. If you inserted a comma every time you paused in a text you’d end up with a lot of unnecessary commas. One of the first things famous acting teacher, Stella Adler, told her students about their scripts was to ignore the punctuation.
In our first example, the comma before “grandma” indicates direct address. Someone is being spoken to, namely grandma, and direct address is always set off by commas. You may also pause there, but you do so because you know the meaning of the sentence.
I’ll end with another famous example. A well-meaning zookeeper once placed the following description on the panda enclosure. “Eats, shoots and leaves.” He or she used what in grammar is called the serial comma—incorrectly. If these were a series of actions, then we’d have a very violent panda on our hands. In fact, “shoots” and “leaves” are both objects of “eats,” and that is indicated by NOT using a comma.
There’s a well-known book written by Lynne Truss that uses the panda example for the title of her book, “Eats, Shoots and Leaves.” It’s a good book, although it’s peppered with some British usage. An even better book for Americans is “Painless Grammar,” by Rebecca Elliott.
If you write and want to improve your craft, consider joining the Brazos Writers Group that meets the fourth Tuesday of every month at the Boyce Ditto Public Library. For more information, call the library or Gerald Warfield at (940) 327-8789.
Gerald Warfield is an award-winning writer of fantasy and science fiction. See his website at http://www.geraldwarfield.com.
By Gerald Warfield | Special to the Index
- Writers' Corner
More poets have lived in Palo Pinto County than you might suppose. Chief among them was Dorothy Lee Hansen whose great-great-uncle was the fam ed cattleman Charlie Goodnight. She published three books of poetry and eventually became poet Laureate of Napa Valley, CA. Her house, just off North Oak in Mineral Wells, was called “Hill Cove.” Dorothy passed away in February of 2010.
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Are people reading less, and does it matter? The National Endowment for the Arts said that readership among young people in 2002 had fallen 20 percent since 1982 causing great concern among educators. But in 2008 they reported that readership among the same group had risen a healthy 21 percent.
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If you’ve written a story or a few poems or have a novel sitting in a drawer, you might want to consider going to a writers’ conference. They can provide inspiration, motivation, and lots of information.
Perhaps you should write a memoir
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You would think that a book signed by a writer would not hold up in value to one signed by a celebrity.
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Warfield to receive worldwide writing contest award
HOLLYWOOD — Twelve winning writers and 12 illustrators from around the globe – including Gerald Warfield of Mineral Wells—will be honored during Sunday’s 28th Annual L. Ron Hubbard Achievement Awards at the famed Wilshire Ebell Theatre.
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Remember Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio?
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Criticizing someone’s writing is called critiquing.
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