Aloha Bruce of the immaculate positioning of words, and punctuation,
What a fun read. Period. Don’t you just love it, when the word, and the punctuation mark – agree?!
Here, in my own words, with my own idea of grammatically correct sentence structure; is a brief history of punctuation. Before I begin, however, let me say that writing in a formal setting, like a Corporate report, legal brief, or Thesis, should- and often does- hold itself to a higher standard. One that cannot, in most cases, be read, or understood, by the average reader. Notice my use of the “oxford comma” in that last sentence. Nowadays, which, by the way, was NOT a word when I was a child, most folks in common usage, skip the comma. In fact, the average sentence now days, has only five words. And in a paragraph, there may only be five punctuation marks, and all of them periods. LOL
So let us go back to the Original Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Germanic, French, and Anglo-Saxon, that make up the majority of our language. English is a hybrid, and fairly new. The first King of England to speak it as his native tongue, I believe, was Henry the VI…so even in its native country, it wasn’t a native language. It was, in fact, the language of commoners. Beneath the language of Royalty and Educated folk of the time. Let us go back even before that, to the Romans, and Greeks. They had no punctuation. In fact, in Latin, one of the problems is pronouns, plurals, and adjectives, as you well know. It is why there are so many “Translations” of Latin and Greek texts…nobody knows how close we really are to what they meant.
The next point I would like to bring up, is ALL punctuation, is so that the reader could know when to breathe. Yep. That’s all. Back in the day, the town crier would have to read aloud, since most folk couldn’t read at all. And a sentence like this with no stops pauses or anything to let the reader know that another subject was coming up in just a moment or a new sentence or a new subject made it incredibly difficult to pinpoint the message and make it understandable to the human ear as we pause to take a breath in these sentences they didn’t know where or when to stop. Add to that, they didn’t leave any spaces between words! Which, come to think of it, makes the space between words, the first punctuation! Pretty cool.
Well, do you come to a full stop, and let people digest what you just said, or are you taking a breathing pause? Hence, the period in the first case, and the comma in the latter. But wait! There are more problems, which you alluded to in your lovely letter. Languages. Yep. English is a bastard. We have so many parents that even our spelling is subject to the rules of another language. If it has a “u” in say “colour”, it is wrong here, perfect in England. If it has an ent ending, or ant…it is French, and must agree with their rules of grammar, if it has a “us”, or “a” at the end, it is Latin…and so on. So, to write English properly, you technically should call it :”Grammars.” Hence the subject bar. LOL
You also brought up another salient point: does your writing communicate what you thought you said? Sometimes grammar obfuscates the story, as does jargon. Writing is just organized speech, and therefore should convey what you wanted to say, or tell, the other person. Grammar , in most cases, insures that the message sent, was the one received. If grammar inhibits the story from being told, then it hinders communication. Grammarians, hate adverbs, most of us ordinary people, sadly, use them well,usually. LOL
In the old days, the Nuns would have given Einstein an “F” for they way he wrote his: “Special Theory of Relativity.” Content, falls secondary to structure. When that happens, you lose the story. The communication. “He died.” Is a perfect sentence. Quotations, with the punctuation inside. Yet it isn’t enough. So (and starting the sentence with a preposition is a no no- yet, it makes the conversation flow) if one were to write: “He died horribly.” Again, the punctuation is correct, but a grammarian would argue over the adverb. Yet, the reader would be piqued, and want more detail: “He died horribly from repeated blows of Strunk and White’s: “Elements of Style,” in hardback.”
I think grammar, like language, is in a flux right now. I agree with you, that grammar is a dying skill set amongst the general population. It ( See that? I should have used “grammar” and not “it”, as to make the subject perfectly clear, instead of assuming the reader knows what “it” means in the sentence. LOL) also does play a major part in upward mobility, especially in the board rooms of America, and across the globe.
Yet, I still hold to the belief, that good writing, even great writing, communicates the author’s story to the reader. Bad writing, simply loses the story line, and makes the reader question why he ever read the damn thing. Our friend Kevin Kearne- has immaculate grammatical structure, and his books have holes the size of the Hoover Dam in them. Nothing “wrong” with the writing- as far as grammar goes; lots wrong as far as telling a believable story goes.
As we have discussed before, I think you need a story, good characters, the gift of dialogue, plot, and interest , to move a reader, and, of course- good grammar.
Smiles, Kevin of the lowbrow