Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Punctuation Police

Yes, I carry a badge. Or a badger. Or a grudge. I can also carry a tune, carry a torch, carry your books, carry on, carry over, Cary Grant, Carry Me Back to Ol' Virginny, but I won't hari-kari even if you hold a gun to my head.

Where was I? Oh, yes ... punctuation. Most of you have probably seen the image at left on Facebook, chuckled over it, and then gone on with your slovenly writing ways. Possibly even continuing to write in that overly-cute texting spelling, with OMGs and LOLs punctuating your thoughts instead of commas and semicolons.

I'm one of those wierd, retentive people that get frustrated when people put quotation marks around words they meant to emphasize rather than call into question. Example: The sign that says EARN $1,000/WK FROM YOUR "HOUSE"! ("Yeah, like that termite-ridden hovel could be called a house. 'Well, it was a hole in the ground covered with a piece of tarpaulin, but it was a house to us!'") Or people who use 's for simple plurals: GREEN PEPPER'S $0.48 EACH ("Green pepper's what? What does the green pepper own that I'd be willing to pay it four bits each for?").

Yeah, I know ... you shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition. But to quote Churchill, "This is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put." And my ongoing mission is to boldly split infinitives no one has split before. As far as I know, only English has a splittable infinitive ... why pass up on the opportunity if it leads to better poetry?

But one of the best jokes I've ever read depends on your knowing that, back in the day, Morse code had no signals for punctuation. Western Union used "X" or "STOP" at the end of sentences, but it could get a little difficult if you didn't know how to make yourself clear. So this joke will use some punctuation and italics to get the sense across as if I were telling it vocally.

Anyway, Stalin was haranguing the crowds on a blustery May Day, when an aide handed him a telegram. He gave it a brief glance, then announced: "Comrades! Today is a wonderful day! I have just received an important message from our beloved comrade Trotsky!" He then read it out:

TO: JOSEF STALIN
THE KREMLIN

YOU WERE RIGHT AND I WAS WRONG. YOU ARE THE TRUE HEIR OF LENIN. I SHOULD APOLOGIZE.

TROTSKY
Cheers erupted throughout Red Square. Amidst the celebration, the Leader noticed little Shepsel trying to get his attention: "Comrade Stalin! Comrade Stalin! Such a historic message! A message for the ages. But you didn't read it with the right feeling!"

Stalin calmed the crowd down and said, "Comrades! Here is a man, a simple patriot, who tells me I didn't read the message with the right feeling! I shall now invite him to read it!"

Shepsel stepped to the microphone, cleared his throat, and began:

TO: JOSEF STALIN
THE KREMLIN

YOU WERE RIGHT AND I WAS WRONG? YOU ARE THE TRUE HEIR OF LENIN? I SHOULD APOLOGIZE?

TROTSKY!