Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Dot Dot Dot Dash - Joan Lennon

I love the questions kids ask when you go into schools and libraries to talk about being a writer. If the kids are small it can be a bit surreal. Questions like "I have an Auntie" or "We have a blue car" can be tricky to answer. But get a little higher up in the school and there are some interesting and stimulating queries. I don't even mind "Where do you get your ideas?" And one of these days I'll come up with a really ground-breakingly stunning answer.

But the other day I got a brand new one.

"What's your favourite punctuation?"

I have never been asked that before. I knew my answer right away, however. It's the dash. I bet the teacher wanted to kill me slowly for that, but it's true. Everyone who has to work with me knows I am over-fond of that little horizontal line. I love its breathiness, its pace, its panache and elan and eclat and its je ne sais quoi.

I also love ... By which I don't mean "If you wait a bit, I'll tell you what I love." I mean I also love ellipses. They feel like the white space on a page of poetry. Infinite things can happen during an ellipsis. Where a dash is a race, an ellipsis is a leap ...

And so I began to wonder about Morse code. There are many things I did not know about Morse code. I did not know, for example, that a dash is equal to 3 dots. I did not know that "dash ellipsis" is B, or that "ellipsis dash" is V. But I do know that a language that makes use of my two favourite members of the punctuation family has an enormous attraction. Not to mention how useful it has so often proved itself to be for those trapped in prisons with nothing but a pipe and a tin cup. The next spare moment that comes my way really should be committed to learning this excellent code.

dash dot dash dot / dot dot dot dot / dot / dot / dot dash dot / dot dot dot

P.S. Are all forms of punctuation equal in your eyes, or do you have a favourite? It would be interesting to know!

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Linda said...

I love colons. They're so explicit: this point follows on and in some way amplifies that point. I can add to it, or in a stroke of irony deflate it. I can explain it, or embellish it. And all that in two dots.

Penny Dolan said...

I am afraid that I am rather in love the exclamation mark !!!!! I know it is a sign of the printers devil to many, and low quality writing and all that, but to me it is a reminder of the spoken voice behind the written words.

However, I do try to put almost all of them back in the punctuation box when I get to the end of any serious writing! (?)

Linda Strachan said...

Like Penny, I am overly fond of the exclamation mark!!! So I also need to go back and put them to bed again after a quick dance on the page.
I also love the dash, Joan. You describe the joy of it perfectly.
I would like to be more confident in the use of colons and semi-colons but they are elusive and each time I think I've understood them they seem to slip through the swiss-cheese bits of my brain!

Savita Kalhan said...

I'm with Penny and Linda! I love the exclamation mark!! I love its over-exuberance and its insistence - I daren't ignore it! I let it out of the box far too much, but I do have to go back and curtail it before I press PRINT in case no one takes me seriously!
The ellipses is another problem...

Sue Purkiss said...

Totally with you on the dash and the ellipsis, Joan - particularly the dash. I use it far too much, because I love it!

michelle lovric said...

Nice post!
I love the colon too. Think of what it says in two brief, elegantly stacked dots! I also love pairs of dashes holding a thought inside a sentence, like a pearl in a shell.

Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

Wonderful...! I was working with a children's author once, a famous elderly chap, and we were going through the proofs over the phone. It took me a second to catch up with him when he started talking about inserting a screamer - his lovely word for an exclamation mark.

Book Maven said...

The semi-colon has no peer; I could never desert it in favour of any other punctuation mark.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Mine is the ellipses because it sort of tails off what I'm trying to say... Lazy,I know! My son insists there should be a space after the last letter before the first dot of the ellipses and I say not. What is correct?

Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

You are both right, Dianne! It's all a question of house style. And UK house style versus US (in the US, they favour a 4-dot ellipsis for sentence-ends and 3-dot ones for within sentences). Generally, children's publishers space their ellipses more fully than adult lists, but that's not conclusive.

Stroppy Author said...

I am known in the Royal Literary Fund as the person who said she would marry the semi-colon when there was a debate about punctuation and someone wanted to expunge it. The semi-colon now has a working visa because we're married; no-one can deport it. So I guess that's my answer.

Mary, what are you doing with my spouse?