Punctuation: why I give a bugger

This is somewhat in the nature of a rant. You have been warned. I’ll try and keep it short.

I’m going to moan about the decline of standards. In order to give this context, I’ll add that I’m 36.

I keep coming across books whose authors can’t punctuate a sentence, and whose editors and proof-readers don’t seem to have spotted this. It’s driving me barmy.  

I don’t mind when people who know what they’re doing choose to break the rules for reasons of style or impact. I’m just driven to swearing when it’s obvious that an author doesn’t know what he’s doing (pronoun chosen because all the worst offenders so far have been men, coincidence though this may be) and that therefore his prose is jerking and flopping about like a freshly-caught halibut.

You may be asking how on earth I can tell the difference? I’m omniscient. No, maybe not. But I do know that punctuation gives a rhythm to text, and that incorrect punctuation makes it ‘sound’ wrong in my head. I was ranting about Peter F. Hamilton (whom I otherwise think is really talented) to my husband, who was bemused because he hadn’t noticed the problem and possibly wouldn’t care as much if he had. Well, he’s lucky. For me, reading a book where full stops should be commas and commas should be (semi-)colons (and even, in one recent dire case, full stops should be question marks) is like watching television where the picture keeps flickering, or listening to the radio with the buzz of interference. You just don’t want to.

I can’t remember learning much about punctuation at school. I remember the odd spelling test, but I don’t think they usually gave me words to learn that I couldn’t spell already. I soaked up nearly all of what I know about both punctuation and spelling without much effort simply because I read a lot. If published books get it wrong…

I don’t want to repeat this rant, and I have a feeling I’m going to be tempted, so I think from now on books I mention will get a punctuation code.

A: No problems

B: One or two things I noticed, but hey, everyone makes mistakes

C: Oh God, not again

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