pu-n,ctu?a—t“i”on . . . [p;an/d(e)mon’i:um.]!

{  In celebration of National Punctuation Day  }

What a morning!

Exclamation Mark barges into my office, red-faced and hyper, and starts stomping everything in sight! I tell it to go back where it came from, that I have little use for hysterics, and to not return, either alone or accompanied (particularly accompanied!!) unless summoned. Know what it does? Crashes my computer and jumps from the window! Just as Question Mark peers inside, puzzled. “What the—!?” asks Q. “This isn’t the chiropractor?” “That would be two doors down,” I say. “And if I were you, I’d keep away from Ex.” “Ex?” “Yeah, a minute ago—”

Em Dash dashes in (naturally), interrupting, and declares it’s through with people mistaking it for its un-better half—Hyphen. Right on cue, in pops Hyphen (followed quietly by En Dash), self-important, saying that this nine-to-five thing is not sufficient for all the work it must do, and that, according to its owner manual, specifically pages 34–36 (“Hey,” says En, in a credit-where-credit’s-due sort of way, “that’s me.”) it has the widest range of usage in the entire grammar group, hence, has value, compounds things, connects well, maintains relationships …

Ah, here we have Ellipsis, pogo-sticking in and leaving a dot-to-dot on the floor … pogo-sticking out again … and until I connect the dots, I won’t know quite where it’s going.

And heeeere’s Apostrophe, drifting in to settle between an empty bottle from last night’s party and a lone gold cuff link. Right on its tail come two weeks’ worth of Apostrophes, murmuring, “Don’t mind us—‘twas neither a sin of omission nor commission on your part. We’re just doin’ our duty, tidyin’ things up.”

“Take care of the broken glass,” I say.

“Will do.”

I’m hearing voices, and Quotation Marks flutter into the place, humming, buzzing, droning; one pair is singing The Coasters’ hit, “Yakety Yak.” I identify two types: couples and singles. Now and then they rake the air with their “fingers.” One pair joins up with a single, and together they announce, “Comma’s coming! ‘In the room the Comma comes and goes, talking of—‘”

Comma indeed trips in, singing—not the “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”—but Bob Marley. Comma pauses, then with a nod of its head, leaves a breakfast croissant on my desk, smiles, exits, comes back, frowns, removes the croissant, pauses once more, says, “Shucks, I’ve got plenty,” puts it back, and exits. (It will return. Again, and again, and again.)

Parentheses slides through the door (both of them, and I do a double-take: They’re identical twins) and assumes a position on either side of the room, saying in stereo, “Don’t mind us—we’re grammatical sociopaths. And one of us,” they continue, “(though we won’t say who), is half a smiley face.”

I smile. But my amusement is short-lived: Colon has arrived, slogging stiffly by, going straight for my file cabinet, rummaging around. I pull a bottle from the bottom drawer of my desk, and say, “Is this what you’re after?” Colon stares: It’s my emergency milk of magnesia. “Give me till 12:30,” Colon declares, “and I’ll be good to go.” I knew it: That explains all things Colon; it even explains Semicolon, now limping across my carpet, listing to one side like some worried serial comma, which it can be at times; it could be Comma’s cousin. (“[I’m] not so sure about that,” says Semicolon.”)

Brackets—two of them—marching in with postures so straight I could balance Merriam-Websters on their flattops. “You’re so square,” I say, but I don’t think they get it. Or maybe they do, but they’re not laughing. I think I’ll put them right there [emphasis mine], where I had set aside my old office chair/bookshelf/catch-all.

The Slash. It strikes suddenly. Everything is B/W with The Slash, either/or, no gray areas. But not to give it short shrift, The Slash’s use is not so terse / when parting running lines of verse. The Slash leaves as abruptly as it came.

And last but not least, Period struts in, puffing a Punch Double Corona and speaking one-liners, like, “So,” “Now,” “Enough.” Taking a hard look at the sentence I’m writing (with pen and paper, since Ex Mark crashed my computer), it asks me if there’s anything more, do I think it’s run its course, and whether it should be brought to a final point, so I say, “I’m done,” and Period snuffs out its cigar on the end of it.

by Troy Howell (originally posted on his blog—also known as his bog—here)

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