How will you spend this year’s national celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever-mysterious ellipsis? National Punctuation Day founder Jeff Rubin, a former journalist from Pinole, recommends starting September 24th off with a bagel, the daily newspaper, and a red Sharpie to correct all the errors you spot.
As a self-professed grammar nerd, I too enjoy catching embarrassing punctuation and spelling errors in newspapers and signs. Spotting such atrocities in regional news outlets is all too common, but finding typos throughout the hallowed pages of The New York Times was once a rare occurrence, given their once-broad army of copy editors. You may not have heard, but the venerated publication recently dismantled its free-standing copy desk to “streamline” its “multi-layered editing and production system.” Consequently, hundreds of copy editors were laid off; to protest the cuts, they marched around with signs reading:
“Without us, it’s the New Yrok Times”
“Copy editors save our buts”
“This sign wsa not edited”
“We kneed are editors! They make us look smart.”
Unfortunately, they didn’t get their jobs back. Now, due to the publication’s increased frequency of grammatical errors, a vigilant NYT reader has launched an entire Twitter account expressly dedicated to correcting them.
Given the steady bloodletting among media outlets over recent years, it’s time for us readers to become even more punctilious about punctuation, wouldn’t you say?
While I’m not a member of the language police per se, I clearly acknowledge the benefits of dedicating time (how’s September 24th for you?) to concentrate on grammar skills. Being understood is critical across all communication platforms, from blog posts to emails. And as a millennial, I don’t use punctuation when writing text messages—in fact, some say it’s passive-aggressive to do so.
Here are a few of Jeff Rubin’s greatest punctuation pet peeves, as told to NPR:
- People who misuse the apostrophe, part 1: The rule about apostrophes is so simple: If it’s plural there’s no apostrophe. How hard is that? Other than the period, which tells people to STOP, this is the easiest punctuation mark. Will the “Johnson’s” and “Smith’s” of the world explain to me why this rule is so difficult to understand?
- People who misuse the apostrophe, part 2: What’s the deal with “it’s” and “its”? “It’s” is a contraction, meaning “it is.” “Its” is possessive. If people read their sentences by substituting “it is” for “it’s”—”it is condition was serious”—it wouldn’t make sense. That means “it’s” is wrong.
- Their, there, and they’re; your and you’re: When did they stop teaching homophones in school?
Here’s a list of books you can read to brush up on your grammatical skills.
While it’s important to remember that punctuation—much like language itself—is ever-evolving, these are rules we can still agree on.
Writing, research and punctuation by April.