Party in Progress for National Punctuation Day

By September 24, 2012 culture, language One Comment

Break out the party hats and streamers, because today is National Punctuation Day! For some reason we don’t have a day off from work to celebrate NPD properly. We’ll have to settle for a blog gathering instead. And you are invited! Let’s rock The Patch with our grammar geekiness.

A few years ago, I wrote an NPD post about the trio of dashes in a post that I titled “The Beauty of the Dashes.” It was a wildly popular read, and I erroneously believed that people were as concerned about proper dash use as I was. Sad to say, lots of people looking for info on the Kardashian clan found themselves lost in a punctuation bog instead.

This year I thought I’d cover the trio of brackets that help us insert information into sentences. Here’s what I’ve found:

curly brackets :: { }
Grammar Girl explains these cuties as having specialized uses in mathematics and science (to enclose the third level of nested equations when parentheses and brackets have already been used for the first two levels). Large curly brackets are used to span multiple lines of text to enclose groups of words that belong together or to enclose triplet lines in—but there’s no key to make them.1

parentheses :: ( )
“Marks of punctuation used to enclose an aside—either whole sentences or words within a sentence.” 2 The Oxford American Dictionary clarifies further, that it’s “a word, clause, or sentence inserted as an explanation or afterthought into a passage that is grammatically complete without it.”

square brackets :: [ ] “Marks of punctuation used in quoted material or excerpts to enclose something that’s not part of the original, like an explanatory aside. ‘My weight [154 pounds] is a well-kept secret,’ said Leona.3

Just like words, punctuation marks have specific uses that are defined and knowable. And now I must confess: I use these brackets interchangeably. eek! I. Know. It’s a total shame! The trouble is the look of them—the way they curve or bend seems artistic and beckons me to use them according to my whim of fancy. sigh.

But this is why we celebrate NPD—to pay homage to the marks that have the hefty job of corralling our thoughts and whims. I will attempt to use them properly within written copy; but when it comes to design/layout, I think it’s fair to use them freely.

How will you celebrate NPD this year? Do you have a punctuation blog post or a favorite mark or a party planned? I’ve love to hear all about it.

May your NPD celebrations be festive!

1. Grammar Girl, “Parentheses, Brackets, and Braces” (Episode 233: July 29, 2010; accessed August 21, 2012).
2. Patricia O’Conner, Woe Is I (New York, NY: The Berkley Publishing Group, 1996), 212.
3. Patricia O’Conner, Woe Is I (New York, NY: The Berkley Publishing Group, 1996), 206.

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