You Have a Point There: A Guide to Punctuation and Its Allies

By Eric Partridge | Go to book overview

Chapter 11

PUNCTUATION AT ALL POINTS; RELATIVE VALUES OF THE POINTS

§ 1:

Punctuation

'PUNCTUATION AT all points' has to be understood to mean either '…as far as it can be complete without the accompaniments-capitals, italics, quotation marks, paragraphing, indenting, etc.' or, if you prefer, 'Punctuation unaccompanied and unallied'.

An airy discourse might be quite interesting-as an example of airy discourse-but it would have little (if, indeed, any) practical value. Such value comes both more easily and more pertinently, more attractively and more effectually, from a set of illustrative sentences, with explanatory or precautionary comment only where necessary; but, wherever necessary, with that comment.

The word breakfast, now always written as one unbroken word, was at first written break-fast. The natural development of compound words, however, is that they begin as two or three separate words-for instance, care free and free for all; then take a hyphen, as in care-free and free-forall; and end as single, unbroken words, such as carefree and theoretically freeforall. In practice, freeforall does not exist: but it easily might. Most of us, I suppose, have seen ne'erdowell (even neerdowell) alongside the more usual ne'er-do-well.

(For the vexed question of hyphenation, see Chapter 17.)

This aborigine was brave; he possessed manual skill, mental stability, moral principles; he was prepared to accept new ideas-however strange, however odd, they seemed to him-at least to the extent of examining them and assessing them: yet, nobody knows why (-least of all the aborigine), he could not bake bread.

Ambiguity, however, is found not merely in single words but also and especially in phrases and clauses and notably in sentences, whether single or compound, simple or complex. On ambiguity in general, the best critical study has been written by William Empson, whose Seven Types of Ambiguity-a title moulded upon T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom?-provide the argument of the following paragraph; direct quotations being set within inverted commas.

If it be possible (but is it?) he will; that is, if all goes according to plan, he will; finally escape from the power of those fiends: men unlike men;

-90-

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