Thursday, June 11, 2009

In praise of good writing

I'm an anachronism - I don't abbreviate and I still use actual punctuation in my text messaging and in most of my emails too. I actually miss the judicious and careful use of punctuation in everyday speech and writing. So when I came across this article - I laughed and knew that it would absolutely have to be blogged. No one but Pico Iyer could write a clever, funny treatise on punctuation without being facetious or pompous.

Instead, he teases lovers and Spaniards, compares punctuation to music notation and (sacrilege!) to the gods themselves. We laugh and, au naturellement, find ourselves agreeing with him because it is impossible to disagree with the beauty of the well constructed sentence - particularly his well constructed sentence - its commas, apostrophes and semi-colons placed like delicate stars on a clear night sky.

To wit:

"A world that has only periods is a world without inflections. It is a world without shade. It has a music without sharps and flats. It is a martial music. It has a jackboot rhythm. Words cannot bend and curve. A comma, by comparison, catches the gentle drift of the mind in thought, turning in on itself and back on itself, reversing, redoubling and returning along the course of its own sweet river music; while the semicolon brings clauses and thoughts together with all the silent discretion of a hostess arranging guests around her dinner table."

Words and music - love that he drew the connection so closely, so finely between the two.

"Punctuation is the notation in the sheet music of our words, telling us when to rest, or when to raise our voices; it acknowledges that the meaning of our discourse, as of any symphonic composition, lies not in the units but in the pauses, the pacing and the phrasing. Punctuation is the way one bats one's eyes, lowers one's voice or blushes demurely. Punctuation adjusts the tone and color and volume till the feeling comes into perfect focus: not disgust exactly, but distaste; not lust, or like, but love."

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