In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “By the Dots.”
Having always been quite compulsively articulate, I take punctuation very seriously. To my credit, I honestly don’t think I have too much of a problem with it.
The exclamation point doesn’t doesn’t often strike me as being necessary. It’s quite like the word “actually” or “literally”. Each of those words is obscenely over-used. Relatively few sentences absolutely require exclamation points.
The comma truly makes a significant difference. If someone claims to have met John Paul, George and Ringo, he’s met one of two popes, and two Beatles. If he claims to have met John, Paul, George and Ringo, he’s met all the Beatles. I’ve always thought it would be nice to write a play named “It’s Time to Eat, Aunt Gertrude”, and sell it to a group of cannibals, who could promptly change the title to “It’s Time to Eat Aunt Gertrude”.
Lately there seems to be quite a lot of controversy over the Oxford comma, often called the Harvard comma, series comma, or serial comma. That’s the one that’s placed before the conjunction in a series of at least three items. I can’t see how it necessarily matters whether one refers to England, France and Spain, or England, France, and Spain, unless of course it’s unavoidably mandatory to clarify the question of whether or not France and Spain are engaged in some sort of collusion. If each country is acting separately I should use the Oxford comma.
I don’t seem to have many occasions, in my everyday life, to use the ellipsis, though I have, over the course of several college classes, used it in order to cite references to long passages. It’s quite difficult to allude to something, in its entirety, from the collected works of someone like Jane Austen or John Stuart Mill. Therefore, a well-placed ellipsis often comes in handy under such circumstances. It can be misused though. I read a few years ago about some anti-Catholic liberals who, in order to besmirch the reputation of Pope Pius XII, and to depict him as a Nazi sympathizer, deceitfully used the ellipsis to give the impression of his having said and done other than what he really said and did. With an ellipsis, context is all.
The question mark and period are both pretty much easy. Declarative and interrogatory sentences are most of what I write anyway.
The occasional dash or two comes in quite handy. Often it pays to insert a qualifying passage into a sentence in order to clarify a thought. I appear to have a habit of quite often using a tilde instead of a dash. Under unofficial circumstances, there appears not to be any harm in that. Parentheses work well for this too~hence the term, parenthetical aside.
For some reason, I virtually never use semicolons. According to my understanding of semicolons, they are supposed to be used in order to link two independent clauses without a conjunction. According to that definition, a semicolon is virtually synonymous with a period so I might as well use a period.