Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Missing the Mark!?

Can we talk? I'm frustrated. Sick of it. And I'm going on a campaign! Perhaps you'd like to go with me. Are you tired of not having all the punctuation marks you need to express yourself correctly? Me too. I'm convinced we are missing at least two marks in the English language. Let me explain.

Exclamatory questions. When you want to use an exclamatory question, should you use a question mark or an exclamation mark? Neither mark alone really accomplishes the task, and yet it's improper to use two such punctuation marks together. So we see writers trying to"make do" with what we have by combining them: "He said what?!" Wrong. And any editor worth his/her salt will eliminate one of them, leaving the expression technically correct but emotionally incomplete.

What we need is a new exclamatory question mark. But what would that look like? Perhaps we could take a clue from the Spanish language and use an upside down exclamation mark. (I can't demonstrate that here, of course, since we don't have them in our language.) Or perhaps we could put the exclamation mark at the beginning of the sentence and the question mark at the end: "!He said what?" Or better yet, perhaps some clever typographer could create an all-new mark just for this purpose. All I know is when it comes to exclamatory questions, we are definitely missing the mark.

The pause. Do you ever want to communicate to your reader that he/she needs to pause for a second? I often do, but again we're missing the mark to do that. Sure, we see people try to create that pause by using the ellipsis: "John, will you please just stop . . . take a breath . . . and think about what you're doing?" But that is an incorrect use of the ellipsis, which is properly used to indicate missing text, not a passing of time. Once again, a sharp editor will eliminate that usage, leaving your writing technically accurate but without the pause you hoped to achieve.

What we need is a pause mark. Unlike the exclamatory question mark, the solution to this missing mark could be quite simple. We could just borrow what's called the "grand pause" from the language of music. The grand pause is indicated in music with double forward slash marks: // And it works beautifully: "John, will you please just stop // take a breath // and think about what you're doing?"

Now what? I have for some time been thinking of sending these two ideas to, uh, who? Where do you begin to get new punctuation marks added to our language? Who is the final authority? I need your help! If you have ideas or suggestions about where I could submit these ideas, I would be grateful for your input. Please just email me directly at ""

While I may not be the one to make this change happen, maybe I can begin to stir the pot to get things cooking. Something definitely needs to be done, in my opinion, because we are really missing the mark here.




Lori Zimbardi said...

How did "sick" all of a sudden mean great? Where did the term "crunk" come from? Someone, more than likely a popular kid or rapper from NY or LA, just decided to begin using it and in time it stuck. I say we do the same. Just start using the new marks and stand firm, confident and unapologetic when questioned about their validity. The Emperor's new // marks. "Of course that is the correct usage. Wow, you didn't know"? A good offense is the best defense in my opinion. We are sheep. We will follow.

The Prudent Patron said...

Excellent ideas! I struggle with these as well. I have no problem using... I do it probably more than I should. However, the !? always feels so wrong. Each time I write it I expect someone to comment that I need to pull out my Scott Foresman Handbook.