Celebration of Commas, Colons, and Parentheses

Today, September 24, is National Punctuation Day! If, like me, rampant punctuation errors – apostrophe abuse and comma catastrophes – make you crazy, this is our day to celebrate. We are not alone! Check out the official website: http://www.nationalpunctuationday.com/ .

Every time I read a restaurant menu, church bulletin, or newspaper article laden with mistakes (either punctuation, grammar, or spelling), I wonder how I can hire myself out as a proofreader. Is it really that difficult to notice the squiggly green or red lines appearing on your computer screen, begging you to make a change?  Heck, if they only asked before printing, I would check it for free.

Herb Caen, beloved Pulitzer-prize winning newspaperman (which he called Pullet Surprise), started an Apostrophe Posse to help fill in grammatical potholes. Herb had a column in the San Francisco Chronicle from the 1930s until his death in 1997, with a brief interlude in the 1950s when he wrote for the San Francisco Examiner. He deputized apostrophe police to collect evidence of grammatical mishaps, like Jay Leno’s Headlines segment, but going further by empowering them to make citizens’ arrests.

I wish that posse was still around. The other day, I screamed when I read this sentence – “Him and Carrie had went to the store” – and it wasn’t in dialogue. (Note: If you found one error in that sentence, look harder. There are two.) When every sentence ends in an exclamation point, isn’t that the grammatical equivalent of crying wolf? Why would anyone believe you if you did have a genuinely astonishing fact to convey?

But my pet peeve has to be the improper use of apostrophes. The humble apostrophe has only two functions:  to show ownership (Taryn’s pet peeve) and to show a missing letter in a contraction (She isn’t really crazy but she won’t stop ranting). Apostrophes do NOT make nouns plural. “On Sunday’s, the church’s in the area serve lunch’s” is not correct; it should be “On Sundays, the churches in the area serve lunches.”

If you think Punctuation Day is fun – and who doesn’t – just wait until March 4 . . . National Grammar Day!

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