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Friday, September 3, 2010

On Punctuation

I am, I confess, a lover of language. As such, I spent a fair portion of my life being a pain in the arse, concerned with minutiae such as grammar and punctuation. As one grows older, though, one realises more and more that these things matter not a whit. I speak not of dubious rules about splitting infinitives; no, friends, I speak of the actual rules. I'll follow them as best I can, but others can mispronunciate to their hearts' content. The masses can abuse any rule of grammar, spelling or aesthetics as much as they like, and I'll listen or read no less attentively. I no longer bat an eyelid when I see apostrophes boldly going where no apostrophe should go, nor do I shrink in horror when someone spells 'millenarian' with an extra 'n'.

In fact, if you'll pardon some hubris on my part, I'm happy to say that I've reached the next level of linguistic nirvana; I no longer care about prescriptivist assholes who do object to such things. They can, to be sure, be a source of amusement, but I'm happy to say that no fist shaking is involved.

The true state of enlightenment, alas, still eludes me, as two particular items still get to me. One is, I feel, entirely justified; the other, not at all.

First of all, I hate - I fucking hate - people spelling 'lose' with a double o. This is no more egregious than any other misspelling that infests the internet, but it gets to me. Possibly because of its ubiquity; I honestly don't know. And try as I might to ignore it, I stamp my little feet in unjustified, misdirected rage whenever I encounter it. Which is daily.

The other thing, I feel less of a prescriptivist about; this is probably because I use it as a source of amusement more than anything else. I speak of the misplaced hyphen. Or, more commonly, the missing hyphen. The hyphen is there for a reason; it provides clarity. I first noticed the missing hyphen some time ago when I encountered on Nassau Street a chap with a t-shirt bearing the text 'FBI -Female Body Inspector'. Was this bulky chap a female inspector of bodies? I'm reasonably certain he wasn't. And if he weren't twice my size, I'd have pointed it out to him.

Of course, it's nonsense. No one who saw that t-shirt was genuinely confused by the potential ambiguity; equally, in this photograph that I took today on Cathal Bruagh Street you see a sign that, I'm sure, left not a soul assuming that the minimum price for parking during the during the day is €7.69.
I know it's nonsense. I don't care.  I'll continue to cherish the missing hyphen, and to try to remember which book it was I read all those years ago that spoke of 'oxygen-free radicals'.

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