Dear Newsblogs: Learn To Punctuate

This article on TechCrunch is a perfect example of why some people still don’t take Internet journalism seriously. Have a look at the first three sentences:

Celebrities get impersonated on the web. They’re famous — everyone is anonymous — it happens. Most celebrities just ignore it; but some get pissed off.

Three sentences in, and writer MG Siegler — a man featured in the New York Times at one point, according to his bio — has already misused both the em dash and the semicolon. Perhaps this is an attempt by Siegler to sound intelligent through the use of esoteric punctuation; both sentences call for the use of boring, everyday commas.

Yes, I know, I’m being a grammar Nazi, and relatively few people care about this kind of thing. The problem, however, is that punctuation communicates ideas that words alone cannot. Letters represent the sounds we make when speaking; punctuation represents the pauses we make in between.

If you think it’s limiting to have only 140 characters to express a thought, try eliminating 90% of the English language. If people stop caring about proper use of punctuation, it will lose its meaning entirely. This will destroy a writer’s ability to communicate voice; without the range of punctuation we have available to us, it’s impossible to read anything as if an actual person might be speaking it. It’s not eliminating 90% of the English dictionary, but it’s certainly eliminating 90% of the spoken language.

Of course, this may be a by-product of the questionable literacy of Internet users. Perhaps very few people still know the difference between a comma, em dash, semicolon, or paragraph break, and thus it no longer matters; every writer is the same to people who don’t know how to read for voice.

To be fair, none of my English classes ever mentioned proper use of the em dash or semicolon; if I recall correctly, I learned both through a combination of my father and Wikipedia. So, yes, this is a complex, deep-rooted problem with all sorts of causes and effects. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fixed.

Okay, now I’m going to finish reading that TechCrunch article.


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