Trends In Punctuation

I hear, now and again, that “heavy punctuation” is old-fashioned, and that the trend these days is toward “light punctuation” that flits along, unencumbered by the commas that would otherwise create drag and slow down the reading experience.  This makes me feel like a bit of a fuddy-duddy at times, as I rather favor heavy punctuation.  Now, I’m tempted to just point out that light punctuation is apparently favored by lawyers, and leave it at that so I can return to my nap.

The author, contemplating puncuation on his porch











But then I think of the fact that my writing tends to be a bit light on stodgy old semicolons, and heavier on the trendier em-dash (so I’d be more likely to write JT noticed that Clarance’s head was sitting on the ground next to him–it could have been an accident, but she didn’t think so than JT noticed that Clarance’s head was sitting on the ground next to him; it could have been an accident, but she didn’t think so).  So maybe it isn’t an all or nothing thing (actually, I might just break those into two sentences each anyway).

Personally, I just want to have the flexibility to make the prose flow however I like it, and I don’t want to limit myself with a bunch of random rules, which is sort of the point of this post an Language Log, I think.  Obviously, Cormac McCarthy is well-known for hardly using commas at all (or any punctuation with a curve to it, for that matter), but if I were to write a sentence with “Cormac McCarthy”, “punctuation”, and “excellent writing” in it, I think you’d be more likely to see “in spite of” in there than “because of”–I’m forever having to pause and figure out who the hell just said what when I read his books.  I feel as though “heavy punctuation” often just makes more sense, in fiction anyway, because the author is trying to point out how a given sentence is supposed to flow; indicating nuance in dialogue and so on.  Oh well, perhaps Cormac McCarthy will present his opinions in the comments.

~ by smwilliams on August 11, 2011.

One Response to “Trends In Punctuation”

  1. It’s nice to see you’ve fixed up the place.

    I think I’m a little heavy on the punctuating, but I agree that it is supposed to emulate how people talk, so … unless you’re just taking and ya can’t shut up, use a comma now and again.

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