Is proper punctuation a dying art?

Is punctuation dying, dealt a death blow by text messaging and buried in a shallow grave by teens who can’t be bothered to learn the fine art of clear communication?  

If punctuation was the province of a load of fuddy duddies who insisted on following a bunch of boring old rules just for the sake of it, I might say yes. But without punctuation, the world suddenly makes much less sense.

Long live punctuation!

In some cases leaving out punctuation, or getting it wrong, is downright dangerous. Far from being obsolete, it’s vital for clear, effective written communications.

When poor punctuation leads to chaos…

This week’s New Scientist magazine pokes fun at a sign near London Bridge station that says, Narrow lanes do not overtake cyclists. Which is nonsense. But add a colon or hyphen and it’s suddenly a crystal clear instruction with road safety in mind: Narrow lanes –  Do not overtake cyclists. Or Narrow lanes: do not overtake cyclists.

Lynne Truss’s excellent book about punctuation, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, is another case in point. There’s a world of difference between the meaning of the phrase “Eats, shoots and leaves” and “Eats shoots and leaves”.

Here’s an example from her book, showing how different ways of punctuating the same statement turn its meaning upside down.

  • A woman, without her man, is nothing
  • A woman: without her, man is nothing

It’s easy to get it right

Punctuation isn’t difficult to learn. It’s mostly common sense and tends to mirror the way we speak. Not using it is just lazy. If you’re in business and you’re foxed by punctuation, get a freelance copywriter on  the case and make sure your communications make sense. Or buy Lynne Truss’s book and get to grips with punctuating properly.