Friday was National Punctuation Day. I don’t know about you, but it really snuck up on me this year. Actually, I just found out it existed on Friday. It doesn’t really surprise me that a day to celebrate the proper usage of punctuation receives almost no attention. After all, this is the age of “OMG” and “LOL.” If we can’t even spell out words, why should I expect anyone to care about punctuating sentences? Punctuation is not tested on the SAT’s, and it is barely taught in schools. Along with handwriting, punctuation beyond the basics (capital letters, period, and question mark) has just about disappeared from the school curriculum.
Unless you are the unfortunate student of an uncommon homeschooling mom like me, that is. As my “About Me” page reveals, I’m a stickler for good grammar skills. By no means would I call myself an expert (especially with quotation marks), but I believe it’s worth the effort. My kids have endured the long out-of-fashion Voyages in English series, Shurley English, Editor-in-Chief, and Easy Grammar Plus during their elementary and middle schools years. They have even tried their hands at diagramming sentences.
Why did I “waste” so much valuable instructional time on what some might call obsolete or unnecessary lessons? Because rules and order have value. That’s a life lesson I think too many people ignore these days. Our relativistic society embraces the “What’s right for you may not be right for me” philosophy. But to me, the rules of grammar are no less important than the scientific method and PEMDAS (you know, the math Order of Operations acronym). Following the rules of grammar and punctuation allow us to express ourselves clearly and effectively. Isn’t that one of the things that separates man from other species? It’s funny that no one likes to admit that good grammar is important, yet look at how much ridicule President George W. Bush endured over his language skills.
As a belated celebration of National Punctuation Day, I list below some of my biggest punctuation, grammar, and usage pet peeves.
- failure to use the serial comma— This one is actually darling husband’s big grammar vexation. When listing a series of items in a sentence, a comma should follow the last item just before the “and” (red, white, and blue). Nearly every authority on the English language except newspaper style guides support the use of the serial comma. I, for one, hesitate to follow the lead of The New York Times in anything, least of all grammar.
- complete ignorance on use of the semicolon— I have taught both kids about semicolon usage. No one knows how to use them properly, so this is one small way to set apart their writing.
- it’s— This is a contraction of “it is”. It does NOT show possession. There is a whole other word for that: “its”.
- “I could care less.”— Why, oh why, is this one so hard? So, what you’re saying is that you do care some, but you might care a little less? The expression is actually, “I couldn’t care less.” I don’t care at all now, and I won’t care in the future either.
- “a whole nother”–If something is entirely different, it is “a whole other” story. What is a “nother”, anyway?
- “irregardless” — Use of this word does not make you sound smarter just because you added one more syllable. “Regardless” already means “without regard”, so I guess adding the negative prefix “ir-“makes it “without no regard”?
- redundancy— There are SO many examples of this to choose from. One I hear a lot is something like this: “The hold-up took place at 10 a.m. this morning.” Again, being wordy does not make you sound smarter; choosing your words carefully does.
Oh, the list could go on and on. What are your biggest grammar and punctuation grievances?