Punctuation

Punctuation – Punctuation is the orthographic representation of any number of meaningful pauses in prose. It is not only meant to duplicate the naturally meaningful, unconscious pauses we make in when we speak; rather, punctuation also represents those mental pauses that both precede spoken words and dictate the rhythm of written ones. Each mark has evolved a number of often conflicting uses over the years, but all essentially demarcate shifts, however subtle, functional, or dramatic, in rhythm and, occasionally, tone.

On the most abstract level, the marking of punctuation is an attempt to positively represent a negative or contextual type of information (apophasis). Punctuation is not “meta” information, but the context for the information we’re generally seeking. Thus, punctuation exists on the same order of information as the prose it frames.

When examined individually, the origins and histories of most punctuation marks are as richly textured as those other glyphs, even moreso. And yet few debate the merit of, say, the letter B, while many probably question the raison d’etre of the vein-tightening semicolash (;—) or the venerable double dagger (‡).

Daggers aside, except in certain scholarly and experimental works, punctuation should be invisible. A writer’s words should be sufficient to propel a reader’s eyes forward; the flow of positive information should not be tripped up for lack of punctuation—as in, “yes but I didn’t know then that Mr. Welles a famous director whose movies I had seen had also made commercials for crappy wine which I sometimes enjoy myself truth be told.” But neither should punctuation become burdensome. Beckett and other anti-punctuationalists set out to make use of the minimum possible punctuation, at times to very strong effect.

In general, punctuation’s rhetorical uses vary, and each mark’s function has changed and will continue to change over time. Regardless, all punctuation works essentially to help readers avoid confusion (or, in the case of some experimental writings, to cause an intentional confusion via anti-use).

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