The HyperTexts

A Brief Defense of Punctuation

by Michael R. Burch

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, before we find humble punctuation marks and the writers who use them guilty of being "hateful" and "elitist" as charged, I think we must first ask why they exist to begin with.

In ordinary speech, even by people who are not elitists, there are frequent pauses in speech. We can hear those pauses. We can also hear elevations of pitch when a speaker becomes excited—for instance, a non-elitist child on Christmas morning. We can hear questions being asked—for instance, by a non-elitist fisherman asking his wife if she's heard tomorrow's weather report. Quite obviously, these pauses and changes in pitch are not elitist, but are common to EVERY speaker of English, and to most or all other speakers of human languages.

However, in writing, we cannot "hear" those pauses and changes in pitch. Therefore, if they are to be communicated, punctuation marks are needed. One might call them a "necessary evil" except that these humble aids to reading comprehension are not evil, but good!

The idea that punctuation is "elitist" can be proved false by listening to any conversation between non-elitists as they talk about things that puzzle or excite them:

What a beautiful day!
Where we you when I needed you most?
First we went to the store, then we went to the gas station, then we went to the pet emporium, and by the time we got home I was pooped and broke!

There is nothing "hateful" or "elitist" about these humble punctuation marks, as they help readers understand how the words would sound in common speech.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case! You must find my clients not guilty. Not only are they not guilty, but they should be saluted for their work as invaluable aids to reading comprehension!

The HyperTexts