Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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The gatekeepers of authenticity should cut it out

Here’s a good post from Anthemeria Rampant: Punctuation peeving and the gatekeepers of authenticity

Early last week, author Stephen Blackmoore said on the Tweetie, “Periods, commas, question marks. Everything else is bullshit.”

… In the long history of the printed word, we’ve already jettisoned the punctuation that no longer serves us. The pilcrow and the manicule are mostly the stuff of old manuscripts now, and niche marks like the interrobang, quasiquote, and certainty point have failed to gain a foothold. At this stage, we can be pretty sure that the punctuation in common use is there because there’s a need for it. …

What’s really going on here, I strongly suspect, is a kind of posturing, and it’s meant to police the boundaries of what’s implied when words like “bullshit” come into play. Because the opposite of bullshit is real, true – authentic. When you see a sentiment like this, you can be sure that what you’re seeing is the gatekeeping of authenticity: A real writer doesn’t use frivolities like semicolons, and if you do, you’re a poseur, a wanna-be – or at the very least, you’re Doin It Rong.

Please, fellow writers, can we not do this? Give yourself whatever constraints you like; by all means, do away with whatever isn’t useful to you. But don’t expect that doing so earns you extra points for the authenticity of your style or the purity of your craft. Your preferences are not virtues.

Ah, music to my ears. This is so true.

Do you realize, we actually have had teachers who would take points off of student papers because the student didn’t follow some personal preference non-rule, such as “never use semicolons” or whatever. Writing “take home message” instead of “takehome message” — this particular instructor was into combining words despite what spell check suggests is preferable.

It’s not part of my job description to argue about this. If the teacher wants to make up ridiculous rules and impose those on students, he or she can, within reason. But now I so want to put “Your Preferences Are Not Virtues” on a banner and send it to anybody who does this. Don’t we have enough trouble teaching students to write coherent sentences and paragraphs without adding a straitjacket of some personal preference on top of real grammar?

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2 Comments The gatekeepers of authenticity should cut it out

  1. Allan

    The New York Times today has an article that the period is going the way of the dodo. Many linguists are of the opinion that the “correct” way to speak and write is whatever a native speaker does. That usage certainly changes over time. Chaucer is darned hard to read today, and it’s not just the punctuation that’s different. The media of transmission also impacts both spelling and punctuation, with typesetting and, later, spell-checking going a long ways towards standardizing usage. But now, with Twitter and other instant feeds, punctuation and spelling are being simplified for speed. I suspect that “u” will eventually make it into the Oxford English Dictionary as an accepted abbreviation for “you”.

  2. Rachel

    I’m having a hard time imagining the period vanishing. And I must admit I wince to think of “u” becoming an acceptable variant of “you.” It may not, you know; autocorrect options offers you “through” if you type “thru” and I wouldn’t be surprised if autocorrect becomes a standardizing force. I’m tempted to say: A force for good . . .

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