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
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!