First the lesson, then the humor:
COMMON SENSE ON PUNCTUATION
A Batch of Rules That Are in Accord With Modern Methods.
“Whose punctuation do you follow?”
The answer is, our own. Unlike D’Israeli’s alleged “sensible men” — who, when asked what their religion is, “never tell” — we are willing and glad to tell what our rule of punctuation is. Here you have it in a few words.
1. Never use a comma if “the wayfaring man, though a fool,” can grasp the meaning of the text without it.
2. Never use a semicolon when a comma will serve the author and the reader as well.
3. Never use a colon when a semi-colon will serve as well.
4. Wherever there is no climacteric effect to be preserved, cut up your semicoloned and coloned sentence into short sentences.
5. Use commas and periods as your standbys.
6. Use the semicolon chiefly to better express antithetis, and to group phrases and clauses.
7. Use the colon chiefly in formal enumeration, after “viz.,” “as follows” and the like.
8. Use the dash to indicate an abrupt break in the sentence, an afterthought, and, in many instances where in olden times the parenthesis was used, to indicate that the words included are parenthetically employed.
9. Use the parenthesis only when you find dashes are not sufficiently exclusive.
10. Never use brackets except where you insert some word of your own in a quotation from some other author.
11. Never use an interrogation point except when your question is direct; e.g., it would be improper to use it after “girl” in this sentence: “He asked what ailed the girl.”
These are our rules to-day. Tomorrow, if we see any new light, we shall follow it. But we are not likely to stray away from the course above marked out. Punctuation, like sentence-making, becomes second nature after awhile. In punctuation, as in sentence-making, we do well or ill as we succeed or fail in presenting our thought in fewest words. The words should be chosen and arranged as to develop our meaning, our whole meaning, and nothing but our meaning. — Midland Magazine.
Lima News (Lima, Ohio) Jan 17, 1899
Mistook the Punctuation.
The Young Woman (surprised and indignant) — How dared you kiss me, sir!
Penitent Young Man — Why, you said you’d like to see me do it.
The Young Woman — But you know as well as I do that I said it with an exclamation point at the end!
– Chicago Tribune
The Gettysburg Times (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Oct 17, 1910
The importance of punctuation is often not thoroughly appreciated. A reporter at a Chicago paper has involved it in a libel suit because he wrote:
“The prisoner said the witness was a convicted thief.”
What he should have written was:
“The prisoner,” said the witness, “was a convicted thief.”
The words are the same. It is the punctuation that makes the difference.
San Antonio Light (San Antonio, Texas) Feb 19, 1899
NEWSPAPER men in Germany have to be very careful about punctuation. The Hofer Tageblatt a short time ago said a decoration had been conferred upon Count von Holstein. By an oversight an exclamation point, instead of a period, appeared at the end of the sentence, and for this the authorities seized the whole issue and instituted a sit against the editor for atrocious libel.
Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada) Feb 15, 1888
The following punctuation puzzle is going the rounds of the press.When properly punctuated it makes good sense:
“If Moses was the son of Pharaoh’s daughter then he was the daughter of Pharaoh’s son.”
Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada) Mar 9, 1888
Can anyone properly punctuate the above puzzle?
HOIST WITH HIS OWN PETARD.
How a Reporter Evened Up Matters With a Captious Editor.
“In one of our western cities some years ago,” said a Kansas City man, “a friend of mine was employed as a reporter on one of the local papers. The next man above him was constantly taking him to task for alleged derelictions in duty and especially for mistakes in grammar, punctuation and similar things. The editor who was forever quarreling with my friend, while a man of force and able to write in a virile manner, was nevertheless deficient in education, and his grammar was occasionally as bad as some of that of Charles Dickens. One day he had been particularly vicious in his criticisms of my friend.
“The following morning there appeared an editorial from his pen, in which the following sentence occurred:
“‘To be a true American one should visit the Rocky mountains and contemplate its beauty and grandeur.’
“Here was the chance my friend had been waiting for, and so he cut the quotation out and sent it to the owner of the paper, to whom both men were responsible, with the following comments:
“‘The first thought suggested by this strange statement is that its author should visit a school of grammar and contemplate its beauty and grandeur. This originality in the use of a singular pronoun standing for a plural antecedent might be used to advantage in a reversion of the style, like the following, for example:
“‘To be a true American one should visit the editor of The Blank and contemplate their beauty and granduer.’ Aside from the offense to English in this admonition to the American people, will the sentiment itself stand analysis?
“If the dictum be true to be a true American one should visit the Rocky mountains and contemplate its beauty and granduer, what is to become of the following:
“‘The man who cannot afford to indulge in this visit and contemplation?
“‘The busy man who cannot find time to go on a mountain gazing tour?
“‘The many good citizens who are blind?’
“The attention of the owner was arrested, and he made inquiries which resulted in his straightening out matter between the two men. While this drastic criticism perhaps did not improve the editor’s grammar, it certainly did improve my friend’s position while on the paper.”
– New York Tribune.
Portsmouth Herald (Portsmouth, New Hampshire) Mar 21, 1901
A stranger in a printing office asked the youngest apprentice what his rule of punctuation was. “I set up as long as I can hold my breath, then I put in a comma; when I gape I insert a semicolon; and when I want a chew of tobacco I make a paragraph.
Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) May 26, 1870
“Punctuation” does not mean merely the little dots, dashes and fangs with which the lines of the printer are hacked, gashed and riddled. There should be some punctuations in everything. Keep your pockets full of periods, and carry one as a wholesome lozenge on your tongue. Your daily walk should be a great dash – straight and to the point. Commas are small change, not to be spent too freely. The exclamation point is a dagger and is not needed by civilized people.
Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) Feb 15, 1892
BROWN AS A PUNCTUATOR.
What Came of Trying a New Method of Learning the Rules.
“Brown, my, boy, there’s nothing like it. Its better than ‘French in six weeks,’ because you can work yourself into it in a month, so that you can hardly say or think anything without following the rule. Take this beautiful selection, which recalls our schoolboy days:
‘The boy stood on the burning deck, comma, whence all but he had fled, semi-colon; the flames that lit the battle’s wreck, comma, shone around him o’er the dead. period.
‘ That’s grand; that’s inspiring. You have all the beauty and all the sentiment, and besides you punctuate as you go along, and so mingle the artistic and the useful.”
Brown was quite taken with this new plan for learning how to punctuate properly. He had often felt like a brother to the fellow who wrote a book without any punctuation whatever, simply adding in an appendix a complete list of punctuation marks, from which the reader could select and punctuate as much or as little as he pleased.
The first lesson went off swimmingly. Brown so fell into the spirit of it that as he walked up the street afterward he found himself soliloquizing:
“I wonder, comma, if I had better get that paregoric, comma, for the baby, comma, before I go home. period. Perhaps, comma” — Then he slipped up on a piece of banana skin and went down flat with two exclamation points and enough stars to equip several issues of a “blanket sheet.”
For the first time in his life he felt like using the “dash” and also making a dash for the miscreant who threw that murderous peel there. He lay on the pavement long enough to denote several paragraphs, then got up with difficulty and limped down the street. But the magic power of that first lesson was still upon him and meeting a newsboy, he began:
“Well, comma, my boy, comma, have you the Star? interrogation point.”
The sharp-eyes little rascal gazed at him curiously and then replied:
“Com-ah? Come off When did yer ‘scape from the ‘sylum?”
After punctuating the town generally during the next two hours and getting a crowd of small boys at his heels, whom he escaped by seeking refuge in an empty school building — a place the average boy never enters if he can help it — he took home to his dear family a somewhat battered but still large supply of punctuation.
At 2 a.m. his wife nudged him. “John, John, there are burglars in the house!”
“What — ah? Burglars — burglars!”
Now wide awake, he sprang to the floor, exclaiming:
“Dearest, comma, I will defend you, comma, even with my heart’s blood, comma, if necessary, exclamation point.” He then threw open the chamber door right in the face of two masked burglars, who held pistols to his breast and demanded: “Your money or your life!”
With one whirl of his strong right arm he dashed the pistols aside, two bullets perforating the hall window, instead of his head, as was intended. With tow more whirls of that trusty arm he sent the burglars as surely and swiftly as one sentence follows another in the mouth of a 200-a-minute speaker out through the window after the bullets, remarking:
“There, comma, now, comma, you can hunt your bullets at your leisure, period. Call again, comma, and I’ll show you how to punctuate better, comma, but you can’t put a period to my existence just yet, period.”
Then rushing back to his wife he exclaimed:
“Joy of my life, exclamation point, light of my eyes, more exclamation points, come to my arms, period.”
They fell weeping on each others’ necks. Stars and dashes come in here, denoting a domestic scene too sacred for the eyes and ears of the vulgar public.
Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) Jan 30, 1893