Grasshopper Soup: Punctuation is for kids
Special to the Sun
TAHOE/TRUCKEE and#8212; If youand#8217;ve never heard the great Victor Borgeand#8217;s comedy routine on punctuation, youand#8217;re missing one of the funniest bits ever. It reminds me of learning punctuation as a kid.
The period was the first punctuation mark we learned. Little dots we called them. Since we couldnand#8217;t stop talking, the whole point of a period was a big surprise to us.
Question marks, however, made perfect sense. Kids love to ask questions.
The exclamation point was even better, because kids like to exclaim things, so much so that a teacher introducing the exclamation point risked contributing to the delinquency of minors, and usually ended up regretting it.
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No punctuation could compare to the fine shape of question marks and exclamation points. The hook shape of the question mark, and the upside down teardrop, or lure shape, of the exclamation point, both in suspended animation over the dreaded period, was our kind of punctuation. They looked like some of those dangerous things we kept in our fishing tackle box; shiny things you had to be real careful with. Iand#8217;ll never forget the time one of us accidentally stuck a barbed fish hook into his finger. His dad was a doctor and had to push the hook all the way through his finger to remove it, resulting in a huge, and very loud, exclamation point.
Learning to diagram a sentence was worse than pushing a fish hook through your finger.
Quotation marks were unnecessary, because kids donand#8217;t always listen to what adults say.
Prepositions are words like and#8220;up,and#8221; that have to do with and#8220;abstract relations,and#8221; like time and direction. I grew up in a large, extended Catholic family, so I know all about abstract relations. Ours were full of exclamation points, quotation marks and question marks.
On the first day of school, a first year Harvard student asked a senior classman, and#8220;Can you please tell me where the library is at?and#8221; Dripping with condescension, the senior replied, and#8220;At Harvard we donand#8217;t end a sentence with a preposition.and#8221; The new student smiled and said, and#8220;OK, can you please tell me where the library is at, bozo?and#8221; (Bozo was not the word used in the original version of that joke.)
In high school I didnand#8217;t know the difference between a preposition and a first date. I thought preposition meant figuring out where to put your nose when you kissed a girl.
I still like to end a sentence with a preposition just to annoy whoever made the rule up.
Due to an entirely new English language developing nowadays, asterisks and footnotes may become extinct. An asterisk is that little star that tells you to look down to the bottom of the page and read the footnote, which is usually a fact supporting what was said before the little star. Why didnand#8217;t they just put the footnote where the little star was, and spare us the distraction of having to take our eyes off the story to look elsewhere? Just tell me the story all in one place. Donand#8217;t make me jump around looking for it.
Asterisks and footnotes serve a function in some formats, but still, itand#8217;s hard enough to write a book or tell a story without having to defend every little fact as you go along.
Another reason asterisks are so strange is because they are called asterisks. We kids knew it was better to call them little stars, because and#8220;little starsand#8221; was easier to say.
My favorite grammatical and#8220;no-noand#8221; was the run-on sentence. Shooting my mouth off non stop, now that was for me. The overwhelming popularity of run-on sentences among kids is due to the fact that we arenand#8217;t supposed to use them. They are considered sloppy.
When I grew up I wrote one sentence, two pages long, contesting a bill. I loaded it with legal jargon and it worked! They stopped billing me, and, that run-on sentence almost landed me a job with a big law firm in Monterey!
Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, former college instructor and ski instructor. He has a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Gonzaga University. He has lived at Lake Tahoe for almost 30 years.
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