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The Art Of Punctuation

John McDermott
Published 1990 · Psychology

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Punctuation is, first, a system. It has rules. It is, however, unlike the orthographic system, which is quite clear on which spellings are admissible in polite society and which are not; some are right and some are wrong — period. With punctuation too there are some procedures which must be observed de rigueur, and not to observe them would be wrong, incorrect, erroneous, inadmissible; the practice of starting a sentence with a capital letter and ending it with a full stop is a case in point. Where the punctuation and orthographic systems differ, however, is that with punctuation there is some leeway for personal discretion, scope for individual preferences and private tastes. At their worst such preferences and tastes may re-route a text to gibberish or, at the least, give the reader a hard time. On the other hand, used with skill, tact, taste and discernment (all qualities which, in this area of activity, have the reader clearly in view), those preferences and tastes lay upon a text the marks of its writer’s personality — or style, if you will — no less surely than do the choice of material, vocabulary and sentence structure.

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