Why Punctuation is Everything

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by S.A.M., Aug 6, 2007.

  1. Nasor Valued Senior Member

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    Yeah, it's possible to construct sentences that are ambiguous without punctuation, but it almost always trivially easy to construct sentences that convey exactly the same meaning but are not ambiguous. Punctuation can transform an ambiguous sentence into an unambiguous sentence, but it's generally not necessary to construct ambiguous sentences in the first place.

    For example:
    Trivially easy to avoid. Simply replace the first sentence with or "William called me an idiot..." or even "William said that I'm an idiot...".
     
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  3. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Well... The construction, "William said THAT I'm an idiot," is losing ground rapidly in colloquial spoken American English. The two meanings of

    William said I'm an idiot.

    in speech are so easily distinguished. If the words are run together, it's an indirect quote and William was talking about me. If William was talking about himself and it's a direct quote, there will be a pause after "said" and a stress on "I'm." This is faithfully transcribed by the comma and quotation marks in writing, so Americans (who tend to write very informally even when it's not quite approprate) are more likely to write it that way as a reflection of our speech patterns. You are far more likely to see an American write

    -- William said he's an idiot.

    rather than

    -- William said that he's an idiot.

    And of course, even though the incredibly intelligent and well-educated members of SciForums are so young that they grew up with their hands on a keyboard, many of them can't actually find their way around a keyboard. So you'll encounter

    -- william said im an idiot

    with no punctuation at all, and you'll be left to puzzle out the meaning. Which will be very easy, because it's obvious which of the two people typed that stooopid sentence.

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  5. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

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    I don't think that the second solution is good punctuation.
    A colon is used in a list, or where a definition or explanation follows.

    http://web2.uvcs.uvic.ca/elc/studyzone/410/grammar/colons.htm

    In this case it is being used where a full stop would be better.

    "A woman. Without her, man is nothing"
     
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  7. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

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    What is the function of a colon?
     
  8. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

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    Now there's a question.
     
  9. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

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    The colon has two main functions: absorption of water and minerals, and the formation and elimination of feces.

    You should know this: you are a biologist.
     
  10. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

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    Which is why a woman needs one before the man can appear in the sentence.

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  11. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

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    That's the last time this piece of shit offers you help with your colon-related problems.

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  12. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

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    Ah you have obviously attained the pinnacle of self realisation. :worship:
     
  13. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

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    Or simply Sam-realization.
     
  14. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

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    Better known as Samskara?

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    In the interest of punctuation (and regardless of the joys of anal retention)
    Please note the highlighted definition.
     
  15. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

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    That's what I demonstrated in my above example.
     
  16. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

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    I see. "Introduction of a definition"

    Here's a good one.
    A college professor was asked to give a reference to an employer for a lazy former student.

    He didn't want to lie so he wrote the following.
    "You will be lucky if you can get him to work for you."
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2007
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    The highlighted definition is "Introduction of a definition." Boldface, to be precise--these days when we say "highlighted" we mean the surrounding blank space is yellow, as defined by those yellow "highlighting" markers sold in every office supply store.

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    I don't think that fits this case very well, because even if the sentence were written by The Last Militant Feminist, I think she of all people would not say that "without her, man is nothing" is a definition of the word "woman."

    I have perused the first two pages of Google hits on "colon." The closest I can come to our example is:
    • "The machine was always breaking down: it was old."
    However, the rule which this exemplifies is very specific:
    • "A colon tells the reader that what follows is significant to the preceding clause."
    A clause is very close to a complete sentence: it must contain a subject and a verb. The previous sentence is a textbook example of a clause. The phrase, "a woman," is not a clause: it is merely a phrase. (To coin another example--I'm just full of them today.

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    ) (Notice that a semicolon would have worked just as well, and in first the sentence in parentheses I could have used a colon, but a dash worked just as well.)

    Nonetheless, I see this usage of colons often enough and in reputable enough sources that I have picked it up, and my writing is often reviewed by people who are at least as well educated and at least as pedantic about writing as I am. I don't have any style manuals with me here in my home-away-from-home. Until someone can reference one, I think we're going to have to settle for the lame explanation that English is a democratic language that is always in flux and what's "correct" is determined by consensus.
     
  18. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

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    http://www.writingcenter.emory.edu/colonsemi.html

     
  19. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    I don't think that's a very good piece of writing for a place that calls itself the "writing center." "Failing all my classes" is a verb-clause and therefore is not of the same grammatical construction as "impediment to my graduation," which is a noun-clause.

    In the second example, the clause "he was spotted yesterday buying a slushy..." does not modify the clause "Elvis lives." It explains it and is a second example of the first rule.

    Nonetheless, the essence of their definition of an appositive would be okay if they simply leave out the phrase "of the same grammatical construction." And using a colon to introduce an appositive is what we're talking about. The phrase, "without her, man is nothing," may not define "woman," but in the context it is an explanation of one of her key attributes, and therefore it is an appositive deserving of a colon.

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  20. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

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    What you said earlier may be the case. It may be current usage. It looks horrible if you are not familiar with it, but things change.
     
  21. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Hey, I'm the old guy here! You kids don't get to talk that way.

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  22. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

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    I use the exclamation mark in the same way that you do, to emphasise that I am joking.
    We are probably a similar age, given our usages and prejudices, and the pedants before us would have disapproved!

    I dislike the use of a colon to emphasise a full stop.
    It should be less forceful than a full stop to my reckoning.
    But if that is the way that it is being used, so be it.

    We can't be King Canutes, forcing back the tide.
     
  23. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

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    [thread hijack]

    you're 62?

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    I've been going under the impression that you were a teenager, given your er, um, youthful posts.
    [/thread hijack]
     

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