Sunday, 29 June 2014

WordPress Daily Prompt: By the Dots

We all have strange relationships with punctuation — do you overuse exclamation marks? Do you avoid semicolons like the plague? What type of punctuation could you never live without? Tell us all about your punctuation quirks!

Birds on a line

The dots on the line are birds, not full stops or colons, birds do not even apply commas. They were perched on a wire and watched as I was working in the office. I do not have a relationship with punctuation; it chose to have a relationship with me.

It all began at school, when they told me what a full stop was. I thought it meant stop running or talking, but no, it meant do not write without making a pause. Even my full stops were not good enough; I do not talk with pauses, why should I write with a pause? The teacher said use a comma to be able to take a breath in between. It seems otherwise my sentences would be suffocating, so just to oblige and keep the teacher happy I threw a few commas in.

I was never a genius with punctuation at school, and so my essays and grammatical works were usually decorated with red signs, such as commas, capital letters and full stops, marked by the teacher. Now and again there would even be a broad red line striking a few many words and followed with a question mark. That was when I met the question mark. Teachers seemed to have a thing with a question mark. Did they not understand English, did they not grasp the genial hidden meanings behind my words? No wonder that my talents were not even recognised at school.

Somewhere along the line I am sure I was explained the meaning of a semicolon and colon, although I do not remember. One day something entered my life that I will never forget: a praise to Bill Gates and his Windows programme. Each time I wrote a sentence there would be something underlined in red. I found this very polite, as if he was asking me if I mind. My teachers just crossed through with an angry thick red line, but Bill Gates was gently underlining in red, and not even making a thick red border line, no – the line was wiggly, as if to say “do you mind”. I even found blue lines now and again, was this a test? Just a double click on the word and if you are lucky, Word actually understands your line of reasoning, you find the corrected version in most cases. The cases where it is not supplied is “anyone can join in” meaning cross your fingers and hope that no-one who actually understands punctuation in the English language is reading this and decides to tell you how it should be done.

I do not have punctuation quirks, I could not care less: If I can read it and understand it, that is OK. Did you notice I used a colon in the last sentence? That was not my natural talent, my high level intelligence, that was Bill Gates in Word telling me to use one, otherwise there would have been a permanent green line under the last part of the sentence. I can live without colons and semi-colons, but Bill Gates and Word cannot, so anything to oblige.

Basically we all write English here, although there are few and far between blogs written in another language. Me, being bilingual, trilingual, quadrolingual and even speaking fluent cockney, this is no problem. Oh, he did it again quadrolingual underlined in red. No problem, a double click asks me if I want to ignore this word. Of course it will not be ignored, it is my word, I invented it and if Bill Gates and Word have not yet realised this is part of the English vocabulary, it is their problem.

Where was I? Ah yes, the Germans have a thing with punctuation. They not only decree that all nouns must be written with a capital letter, but they have rules telling you where to put commas. No, there is no free choice; you have to put the comma where the comma should be. There is a comma before beginning a clause in a sentence. You cannot just write, but there is a special sequence when asking and answering questions, and descriptions. I am not giving details, because even for me it is not easy, and I am not here to tell you “how to speak German in one easy Blog”. Germans are organised in their language and even little kids learn it. I have a Mr. Swiss if I have a problem. One of the advantages in speaking swiss German is that to my English ears, they tend to swallow the endings of the words, and endings are important in German, so I swallow them as well, and no-one notices that I am constantly making mistakes.

Another great advantage is that there is no actual official written Swiss German. Write what you hear (but with a German intonation). It has even developed into a sort of secret language in Facebook as the Swiss write in Swiss German which not even a fully-fledged German really understands.

To sum it all up, the Germans live by punctuation, the English also live by their punctuation, and Mrs. Angloswiss just hopes that everyone understands what she is talking about.

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