Posts Tagged ‘Punctuation’

Punctuation, Typewriting and Telegrams

September 24, 2010

A bit of a mixed bag for Punctuation Day:

Fire Inspector Not in Jail as Telegram Stated

Lack of punctuation in a telegram received at the state fire marshal’s office Friday morning made it appear that L.J. Butcher, state fire inspector, was in jail at North Platte waiting for somebody to go his bail. But by inserting a period where the telegraph company had omitted it, Chief Clerk Eva Anderson figured it out that two incendiary suspects and not Butcher, were in jail.

The inspector was sent there two or three days ago to probe the circumstances of several supposed incendiary attempts to burn a residence in North Platte. He wired Friday that one blaze which started April 9 at 11 p.m., had been put out, and the next morning at 8 o’clock fire broke out again at six different places in the house.

“Owner and wife made complete confession to County Attorney J.T. Keefe and myself are in jail awaiting bail,” the message concluded.

This looked bad, on its face, for “J.T. Keefe and myself.” But telegram English is a little different. Miss Anderson finally decided that this was the way it should read:

“Owner and wife made complete confession to County Attorney T.J. Keefe and myself. Are in jail awaiting bail.”

The Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) Apr 14, 1922

Sarcoxie, Missouri (Image from

Getting Into Print.

A certain gentleman who wanted to get into print sent the following to the Sarcoxie Record

The scribe arose
And rubbed his nose —
His eyes expressing exultation
Aha — cried he —
I will be free —
I will be free from punctuation

This writer then
Seized on his pen
Writing fast with fiery flashes —
And to him came —
One morning — fame —
Instead of commas he used dashes

The magazines
And pictured screens
Acclaim’d him genius — great – annoited —
His stuff was grand —
You understand —
Because it was so oddly pointed.

The Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) Mar 21, 1922

A Little Punctuation.

People who fail to punctuate their communications are invited to study the following line, which is a correct sentence

“It was and I said not or.”

We got that line one day this week by wire, where punctuations are always omitted. We nearly wrecked our mentality trying to clear up the mystery of the single line, when all of a sudden it occurred to us to look up a copy of our letter to the party, when we discovered that our friend wanted to inform us he did not use the word “or,” but did use “and.” To be plain, the sentence is correct and should have read, “It was ‘and’ I said – not ‘or.'”

Another party who has been studying Pope wrote us as follows: “My Dear Mr. George — I have been thinking over the statement you made last week, and I too believe that that is is that that is not is not, and I take pleasure in believing so.”

A good way to untangle the above is to write it as follows: “That that is, is. That that is not, is not.” In other words, it is a play on Pope’s “whatever is, is right.” People who eschew punctuation should not feel hurt if their meaning is not always readily grasped.

— George’s Denver Weekly.

Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada) Jul 22, 1899

While the rest of us are looking for truth in the book of life the Cynic spends his time searching for small flaws in the punctuation.

Daily Mail (Hagerstown, Maryland) Sep 6, 1927


It is a prevailing fad of job printers to omit punctuation. The consequences are sometimes far from satisfactory to the customer, as witness the following street car sign of a well-known Connellsville druggist:

Your Doctor’s Orders
Are Obeyed Strictly and Accurately
I Never Substitute
Pure Drugs and Medicines

What the druggist does do, and what he wanted to say, was that he fills prescriptions accurately; that he never substitutes other remedies for those called for in the prescription; and, finally, that he sell nothing but pure drugs and medicines.

The job printer has made him say that he obeys the doctor’s orders by never substituting pure drugs and medicines for the impure kind prescribed!

The Daily Courier (Connellsville, Pennsylvania) Mar 15, 1906


How Poetry, Prose and Advertisements Sound Via the Copyholder.

If one of our modern graduate elocutionists could hear a copyholder reading aloud in the proofroom of a daily newspaper, it would be very apt to drive the elocutionist to drink. For the benefit of those who have never heard this class of reading an imitation thereof in type may be of passing interest.

In the first place, be it understood, a copyholder is a proofreader’s assistant, and it is his (or her) business to read aloud the copy, including punctuation, spelling of names, etc., so that the proofreader may have a correct understanding of just what the copy is without bothering to look and see for himself.

This is about the way it sounds when the copyholder starts in:

“The G-r-a-m-m-e Machine — three up — E type — period. In the diagram before you A B — two small caps — is a ring of soft iron — comma — with its ends connected so as to form a continuous circuit — period. This ring can be made to rotate on its axis between the poles N S — two small caps — of an electro-magnet — compounded — period. How the magnetism of the electro-magnet — compounded — is established will be explained by-and-by — compounded — no e on by — colon — for the present I simply assume that N — small cap — and s — small cap — are two magnetic poles — comma — north and south respectively — period — parry — no dash.”

Perhaps the next bit of copy is a news item, and we hear:

“Accident in Newark — H 1. About 6 o’clock this morning as William — abbreviated — Clarke — with an e — was crossing E-v-a-n-s st — comma — near the corner of Clover — comma — he was struck by a trolley-car — compounded — No. 42 — figures — comma — and thrown to the ground on one side just in time to fall under the wheels of a passing wagon — period. He was picked up unconscious and conveyed to G-r-o-s-v-e-n-o-r hospital — comma — where his injuries were pronounced dangerous — period — more to come.”

Possibly a little poetic gem may be the next thing on the proof, and this is how it sounds:

“Miss P-e-g-g-y-pos-s Bonnet — three up — K type. Poetry — begins flush.

The century was six years old — comma — one em — Miss Peggy — two up — just sixteen — spelled, of course — comma — dash — flush — not yet a woman — comma — nor a child — comma — one em — but that sweet age between charms from either side — comma — dash — one em — the dimpled smile of four — spelled again — comma — flush — with gentle mier and glance serene — one em — of twenty-one — hyphened — or more — scarce — stanza.”

Next an advertisement appears and as this is more important than poetry or news the copy reader’s pace slackens very perceptibly, and we catch:

“Two inches — daily — top of column — third page — send five proofs — four blank lines — avoid consumption — 38 — 1 line — pica old style lower next — begins flush — don’t wait until the hacking cough — all caps — has weakened the system and strained the Lungs — one up — period — take — break — S-m-i-t-h-pos-s E-m-u-l-s-i-o-n — two lines 27 — upper and lower — centered — no — point — goes on in pica old style — flush — the cream — one up – of Cod liver — cod up — hyphened — Oil — up — and Hyposphosphates — up — comma — to supply the nourishment your system craves — period — no address — that’s funny — better show it to the boss and see if it goes.”

And thus the copyholder hurries along, dissecting his material at a rate only a printer can properly appreciate. — American Bookmaker.

The Mountain Democrat (Placerville, California) Mar 21, 1896

A Writing Machine

The first of the writing machines manufactured in New York has been received by E.S. Belden, phonetic reporter of Washington. The invention was made in England, but it has been added to and improved in this country. The machine is about the same size of an ordinary sewing machine, and can be worked by a child who can spell, as easily as by a grown person.

It consists of a series of forty-two keys, to which are attached steel hammers, and each one of these represents a letter, figure, or a punctuation mark. The keys are arranged in four rows, like the keys of an organ, and are operated on precisely the same principle. The hammers are arranged in a circle, and when the key is pressed the corresponding letter moves to the centre, receding again immediately when the pressure is removed. A space key is provided, by means of which the spaces between words are made. Mr. Washburn, of San Francisco, patented an improvement on the machine, and he contemplates the use of printers’ ink. In the original, the color is taken from a prepared ribbon, which is between the hammer and paper. At the end of each line the machine is adjusted for the next line by means of a treadle, which is worked by the feet of the operator.

By this machine three times as much can be written as an ordinary man can write. The Western Union Telegraph Company has already ordered all that can be manufactured for the next six months. They are to be used manifolding copy telegraphed to the press.

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) Oct 19, 1873

Charles A. Washburn’s 1870 patent illustrations:

Here is a link to last year’s post for National Punctuation Day!

National Punctuation Day!

September 23, 2009

classroom blackboard

National Punctuation Day

First the lesson, then the humor:


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

Image from kockneykapers on photobucket

Image from kockneykapers on photobucket

Punctuation Puzzle.

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?


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


What Came of Trying a New Method of Learning the Rules.
Washington Star.

“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