Title: Making a Point: The Pernickety Story of English Punctuation
Author: David Crystal
Publisher: Profile Books
Publication Date: 17th September 2015
Rating: 4/5 stars
David Crystal combines the first history of English punctuation with a complete guide on how to use it.
Behind every punctuation mark lies a thousand stories. The punctuation of English, marked with occasional rationality, is founded on arbitrariness and littered with oddities. For a system of a few dozen marks it generates a disproportionate degree of uncertainty and passion, inspiring organisations such as the Apostrophe Protection Society and sending enthusiasts, correction-pens in hand, in a crusade against error.
Crystal leads us through this minefield with characteristic wit, clarity and commonsense. He gives a fascinating account of the origin of every kind of punctuation mark over one and a half millennia; he shows how some have faded away while others have adapted and thrived; and he offers sound advice on how punctuation may be used to meet the needs of every occasion and context.
David Crystal has revived my love for punctuation. I didn’t realise quite how passionate I was about the subject, until I found myself nodding along to all of Crystal’s points! I loved discovering so many little factoids about punctuation!
Originally, punctuation was intended to help speakers, not readers. Hence, many of the rules of punctuation came from playwrights, and were afterwards standardised (or not) by printers.
A poignant point about punctuation is made on page 106, where Crystal compares two versions of an Emily Dickinson poem, one with its original punctuation and the other a ‘more accessible’ version. Many of the dashes have been replaced with commas, and a capital letter is removed. It alters the fluidity of the poem.
You have probably seen this particular combination of punctuation marks:
What you may NOT know, and what I found hysterical, is that this combination of asterisks marking the end of a sequence and the beginning of a new one, is called a dinkus! (How cool is punctuation?!?!)
Crystal’s voice is clear and concise. He uses many examples to explain the finer points of punctuational use. However, throughout the book, he continues to emphasise that rules only take us so far. As the book explains, the rules of punctuation are constantly changing. The age of the Internet has altered punctuational use – punctuation maximalism will be familiar to a lot of texters:
Will we see you at the party?????????
(This is a quote from page 327, though I added the capitals at the beginning of the sentences…..)
Emojis too began as an intriguing way to use punctuation. People see a smiley face in : – ) and a cheeky face in : – P.
Interestingly, Crystal mentioned that ending text messages (or any instant communication) with a period can come off as insincere. Just after finishing the book, this study confirming this fact was making the rounds on my Facebook news feed. With new technologies comes new uses of punctuation.
This was a fascinating book – anyone who has ever been even slightly interested in punctuation and the finer points of language will love it. While the historical elements in the earlier chapters did get a little boring, the chapters dedicated to each punctuation mark were just brilliant! There were also ‘Interludes’ at the end of each chapter, giving a fun little anecdote to demonstrate punctuation in action. This book was just a lot of fun to read, and everyone will have to listen to my fun punctuation facts for a while!