Punctuation Station

K. M. Weiland had a poll on her blog last week, asking readers to choose their favorite punctuation mark. Neither the ampersand nor the parenthesis was listed, so I had to choose “other” (and thankfully did not have to choose between the two). And I was thinking, you know, nobody really shows love to ampersands or parentheses, and they totally deserve it. Which got me to thinking also of the Oxford comma, which I will forever embrace until my dying breath.

Awhile ago, in my post Why I Write, my Reason #1 was that I love words. Well, I also love punctuation. I have my pets, and my tics, and so does everyone. For awhile I overused the semicolon (and perhaps I still do). I know I overuse em-dashes and parentheses. I don’t really feel the exclamation point. I mean, it’s okay, but if I overuse it, I’m making fun of overusing it, like this!!!!


In “public” writing, I usually (but not always, as you can see) try to restrain my use of parentheses. They are divine, especially for people like me who have ADD of the mouth and like to go off on tangents while talking/writing (would that be ADD of the typing, too?) (At any rate, I’m scattered sometimes, whether talking or writing). Parentheses don’t often show up in my fiction. Where you’ll mostly find them is in my emails and diary. Love these guys. How can you not? Their curvature, their symmetry, their absolute usefulness.

The Oxford Comma!!!!

There are some humorous examples of ambiguity resulting from the practice of not using the Oxford comma, also called the serial comma, and some humorous examples (less compelling to moi) of ambiguity arising from its use (see this Wikipedia entry for lots of information on the beloved Oxford comma). While I try not to be a prescriptivist, here I must say, I was taught to use the Oxford comma, and I like it, and I believe, in most cases, it can help eliminate ambiguity. Plus, it just sounds right. It’s fun, it’s practical, and it was part of my grammatical upbringing. (See how the second comma, the beautiful lovely industrious Oxford comma, is a natural part of the pause in the previous sentence? Yes, I think you do. You must.)

The Ampersand!!!!

I love this one so much, it gets an ode:

Curved S
Tilted backwards
Treble clef
One character
Meaning “and”
Curvy, quirky

Which punctuation marks do you tend to overuse? Which are your favorite? Have you ever written a love poem for a punctuation mark? Do share!!!!


  1. readingisdelicious · February 24, 2012

    Like you, I am a big fan of parentheses (it lets me include snarky comments, although this is not one), and the Oxford comma!! LONG LIVE THE OXFORD COMMA! I tend to overuse commas sometimes, and they end up in odd places where they shouldn’t. I do not use ampersands very much at all, except in Twitter to help me fit the 140 character limit.

    Another form of punctuation I overuse and LOVE are ellipses. Because my thoughts tend to trail off a lot into musings. Or sometimes it’s the punctuation raised eyebrow!

    I’m trying to cut back on exclamation marks, but I tend to get enthusiastic and excitable, which means I MUST USE ONE!

    I wish Daniel liked apostrophes… >_>

    • Beth Hull · February 24, 2012

      Ah, I didn’t think of the snarky flexibility of parentheses. Yet another vote in their favor. I overuse ellipses, too! Forgot all about those guys.

  2. PB Rippey · February 24, 2012

    The awful truth is I use the serial comma when writing children’s fiction as of course I want children to read what I consider proper punctuation and grow up with it and utilize it later in life——but I’m not at all serial comma-ish when writing adult fiction. Hypocrite? & so it goes…Lovely ode!

    • Beth Hull · February 24, 2012

      PB, you’re only as much of a hypocrite as I am for telling Z that “desserts are special treats, not meant to be eaten all the time” when I’m sneaking handfuls of peanut M&Ms.

      Hmm. That sounds very hypocritish. Well, I won’t judge you here!

  3. ^H (Sean) · February 25, 2012

    I’ve always been a big fan of the semi-colon; versatile punctuation mark.

    • Beth Hull · February 26, 2012

      Sean – that’s an ode right there! I do love the semi-colon; I tend to overuse it.

  4. Vic · February 27, 2012

    Wow, I had no idea a comma even had more than the name itself – comma! Yeah, you’re way smarter than me 🙂 I like the dash lately (not sure what the proper name for it is). I use it in places that I might have used a parentheses before, but the dash just looks “cleaner” to me for some reason. But I’m with you – ampersands, unite!

    • Beth Hull · February 27, 2012

      I think the dash you’re talking about is the em-dash, which is when you put two hyphens together to make a longer dash. WordPress won’t let me do it, so I make do with a single hyphen – like that.

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