JaniceHeck

My Time to Write, but The Cats have The Last Meow!

National Punctuation Day: The Common Period Makes a Dramatic Stand

September 24 is National Punctuation Day.

To celebrate this special day, I herewith honor a most humble punctuation mark, the common, everyday… *drum roll*

period.

This homely little fellow is so insignificant it merits only a few small paragraphs in most grammar and style books.  It’s kind of a ho-hum topic and just a bit, well, boring.

Willian Zinsser commented about the period in his book On Writing Well:

There’s not much to be said about the period except that most people don’t reach it soon enough.

The period doesn’t even rate any cute nicknames, though it is sometimes called an end stop, a full stop, and a terminal mark. Lately, with the advent of URL addresses, it is called a dot. Those names all sound deadly dull with perhaps the exception of Dot. She sounds kinda cute.

Because it is so common, the period earns the Dullest Punctuation Mark Award. It is, after all, used far more than those other two boorish terminal punctuation marks: the question mark and the exclamation mark.

Only the King of the Punctuation Pack, the comma, beats out the period for title of Most Used Punctuation Mark. Of course, the comma does earn this by cheating. People (wrongly) throw in commas whenever they make a slight pause in their writing.

Whoever started that nasty rumor about putting a comma in whenever you pause needs to be hung up by their toes. Imagine the poor non-fluent reader who pauses after every word or two. That breathy comma rule only causes distractions and unfairly and artificially punches up the comma count!

But no matter. The period has hidden talents, and that’s the point of this post. This ubiquitous little dot has more power and cleverness than you might imagine.

Traditionally, the period has three jobs, maybe a few more if you want to nit-pick a bit.

  • It ends a complete sentence.

Apple Computer started selling its sleek new iPhone 5 this week.

People lined up at dawn to be among the first to buy this new iPhone.

  • It ends an indirect question.

Rachel asked Lisa when she purchased her new iPhone.

Isabelle asked her father if she could have his old iPhone.

  • It ends a mild  command.

Isabelle, turn your iPhone off and do your homework.

  • It is used with abbreviations; initials in names; and after Roman numerals, letters, and numbers in  outlines.

Okay, so those rules are pretty ho-hum, but let’s  take a look at what this common little black speck at the end of a sentence can do when it wants to stir up the action.

It controls time. It controls pace. It controls suspense. It controls drama. It controls tension. It carries emotion.

Did you notice how you slowed down when you read these short sentences? Did you stop to consider each idea? (Yes, I agree. I overused the short sentences here to make a point. You might not want to wear out this technique in your best-selling novel.)

The shortest verse in the Bible carries these features (pace, drama, tension, emotion) in two strong words and a period.

Jesus wept.    John 11:35

A period can speed up your reading and writing, and it can slow it down. Used effectively, a writer can hold you in suspense just by making a sentence longer, putting the subject and verb at the end, and delaying the period. (Of course, selection of words is crucial, too.) This type of sentence is called, guess what?, a periodic sentence. You just don’t know what is going to happen until you get to the very end of the sentence. Here’s an example from a song I used to sing in elementary school many years ago (not telling how many years ago that was!).

Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house             we go.

Here’s my little long-eared poochy friend to demonstrate how to show emotion (irritation and determination) by using periods. You can read more about him and his fellow pooches in the annual Ocean City Doo Dah Parade here.

I.   Will.   Not.   Go.   One.   More.   Step.   And.   You.   Can’t.   Make.   Me.

You are right. The above example is not a traditional sentence with all those periods. But don’t tell the pooch. He has made an emphatic statement, and he won’t change his mind.

Now a few sticklers out there thought I should mention a few more picky principles for using periods. Just humor them.

1. Put periods inside quotation marks in the U.S. (The Brits put them outside the quotes. Go figure.)

“Isabelle, I told you to turn off your iPhone.”

2. Put only one space after the period at the end of a sentence. (This is for you antiquers who learned to type on a SmithCorona!)

That’s it for now.

YOUR TURN:

How do you use this little power-packed punctuation mark?  What’s your favorite punctuation mark?

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10 thoughts on “National Punctuation Day: The Common Period Makes a Dramatic Stand

  1. Had no idea there was such a thing as National Punctuation Day!
    It’s taken me forever to learn to only leave one space after the period.
    My favorite punctuation mark is EXCLAMATION POINT. It’s used so seldom in fiction writing I figure it needs some love!
    Great post, Janice.

    • Thanks, Judythe. I think I’ll write a post on the exclamation point! There are some good quotes about it. National Punctuation Day is an annual event. Mark it on your calendar for next tear. Teachers could have some fun with it.

      • There were some great suggestions on the National Punctuation Day website. I’ve marked my 2013 calendar so I remember. I have a late, late post ready for tomorrow.

  2. Brilliant post, Janice! I’ve come to the conclusion that I will NEVER be fully punctuation confident. Oh, I have my moments of wisdom when I recognize the beauty of a well punctuated passage, but they are not often enough to instill confidence.

    I’m with Judythe in that the single space rule is not an easy one to grasp. My brain is on autopilot after a bajillion years of two spacing, and it remains an oft made boo-boo for me.

    I think I have to say I love the period. It’s the most versatile punctuation mark and can do wonderful things for a sentence. Most frustrating, however, is the comma. That darn little squiggle vexes me like no other. I’ve tried to be friends, but it remains standoffish and stubborn.

    This is the first year ever that I realized there was a National Punctuation Day, and it was especially cool because I made the discovery just in time to correct my daughter for not capitalizing God in a FB post. Tee hee. I’m kind of thinking it should be National Punctuation Day everyday!

  3. Love this post Janice…Though I like the period, I love the exclamation point!

  4. You and Judythe share similar feelings for the exclamation point!
    Here’s a fun quote: “Punctuation, is? fun.!” Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon
    Here’s another: “Thank God, it’s Friday!” (Everyday is Friday when you are retired.)

  5. Coming to this a bit late, sorry! My favourite punctuation mark is the INTERROBANG and I want to start a campaign to bring it back! It’s a hybrid exclamation point/question mark. ‽‽‽‽‽
    I’m really cut I didn’t know it was international punctuation day in time to write a post dedicated to the wonderful interrobang.

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