I don't usually mention my books on here, but this latest one is in trouble. Look at that. It has an exclamation mark, shamelessly flaunting itself in an inappropriate way, right there on the cover. Can't see that book selling. Or the others in the hugely successful series. It's obviously been put together by a bunch of incompetents who don't know how to write...If you agree, you are probably the Secretary of State for Education.
There is a lot of kerfuffle about the teaching and testing of grammar and creative writing in primary schools at the moment. I posted in March about 'wow' words. Wow-words are just one of many problems. There
is also the little issue of the exclamation mark. This innocent line-and-dot combo is going to have to watch its step. It might as well be a teenager in a hoodie hanging around a bus stop after dark, or an Arabic-speaker boarding a plane - it's just asking for trouble if it goes somewhere those in authority consider the 'wrong place'.
According to the
curriculum authority, a young writer should gain no credit for
exclamations such as these:
"He has to open it!" (Louis Sachar, Holes)
"Look! There's a kingfisher." (C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)
"It's stress!" said Ron. "He'd be fine if that stupid great furball left him alone!" (J.K.Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone) [actually, that one might actually be about the ! itself: it would be fine if the stupid great furball left it alone]
"There! It's easy - a bit rocky near the middle." (Alan Garner, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen)
"My mummy is very big. Like this!" (Chris Haughton, A Little Bit Lost)
"Let the wild rumpus begin!" (Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are)
'I carried naught but a spear. A spear!' (Tanya Landeman, Apache)
exclamation mark, apparently, should only be used with a sentence that
starts with 'What' or 'How'. After all, what do writers know? Who would
you trust to use words effectively - a Carnegie-winner or the Education
Children learn by example. We want them to
read, and they learn to write through reading. If they read good books,
they will come across exclamation marks used properly. Won't they then wonder why the rules for using them don't match
use-in-practice? Of course they will. It's not as though exclamation marks are only safe in the hands of grown-ups. It isn't like not letting them drive or drink alcohol or join the army - all things they can do when they are older but are against the rules in primary school. No one is going to be hurt by a sharp exclamation mark.
I'm getting a bit sick of being polite about this. WTF does the government think it's doing? There is no sense to this rule, just as there is no sense to making up grammatical terms, like 'fronted adverb,' insisting children learn them and then testing them on those made-up terms. Grammar is useful, and teaching it appropriately is a good thing. But the key word there is 'appropriately'. (It's an adverb. It goes with the verb 'teaching'. 'Grammar' is a noun, as is 'thing'. And 'good' is an adjective. That's all you need to know to start with. More can follow later if necessary, but if we stuck to teaching just those, at a suitable point (not age 6) that would be enough for most purposes.)
But back to the exclamation marks. This is a made-up rule. The only rule about exclamation marks is pretty simple - use them to show an exclamation.
Help. Is that a noun? Is it a verb? If so, in what form?
Help! Verb, imperative, conveying urgency.
Punctuation adds or clarifies meaning. That's what it's for. It's not there to make dumb rules about.
the Society of Authors publishes a statement from the Children's
Writers and Illustrators Group and the Educational Writers Group calling
on the government to alter the way children are taught to write. I am
chair of EWG and another ABBA blogger, Nicola Morgan, is chair of CWIG. The members of both committees feel strongly about this issue. You can read the statement on
the Society's website. Nicola's post about the ridiculous pseudo-names for grammatical parts and constructions is also published today. Please help to spread the word and free children to enjoy writing for pleasure.
Later addition: the statement is reported in today's Guardian (Wednesday).
New blog: The Shipwrecked Rhino