Today is National Punctuation Day: a day for us to reflect on which punctuation mark truly represents our character. I, for instance, used to be a semicolon — but now I think I'm a dash.
My days as a semicolon were pleasant; they were carefree. I used the semi-colon frequently in my writing; I relished my ability to string together two complete sentences without the benefit of a conjunction. It was a simpler time in my life; I liked connecting things without worrying about exactly how they were related. I ate fish with strawberries; I loved Beavis and Butthead and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (though my college honors thesis Beavis; Butthead; Rosencrantz; Guildenstern never got off the ground). But as those parentheses illustrate, my life is more complicated now. I need a punctuation mark that can do triple-duty, denoting thoughts within thoughts, implying subordination, and allowing a certain pause for emphasis — I need a dash.
A dash implies an understanding of cause and effect — and timing. Its adherents understand that the complexities of the universe can only be represented — insofar as they can be represented at all — with punctuation that's a little bit outside the norm. While I haven't abandoned my old friend the semicolon, I now realize that the dash, which can precede a simple phrase just as easily as a complete sentence, is a little more versatile — a little more mature. Dash people — Emily Dickinson was one — understand that human life is full of unexpected connections — connections too subtle for the colon yet too important for the comma. If I do say so myself, dash people have a rich inner life — the kind that lends itself to speculation about how other punctuation marks might break down into personality types. To whit —
It's no accident that the colon ends the salutation in a business letter. Colons are precise, efficient, and a little cold. If you're a colon, you like to cut to the chase and you're not interested in a lot of embellishment. You have a job where you tell people what to do, or you want one. You probably make your bed every morning with hospital corners; you probably like PowerBars.
The Exclamation Point
You might think exclamation points would be really emotional, but no. To me the exclamation point is a sign of false emotion, a lack of confidence in your words. Exclamation points are the kind of people who have to totally scream when they see someone they know, even if they don't like that person very much. Not my favorite type.
Parentheses have a lot to say. They're not necessarily that well-organized (they get distracted by shiny objects and had trouble finishing tasks), but they're always interesting. As a parenthesis person, you're probably really into sandwiches, for obvious reasons. You love algebra, but hate statistics, shopping lists, and anything with a time limit.
The Question Mark
Sure, question marks are uncertain, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The question mark recognizes that we live in an unpredictable universe, and that what's true one day may not be true the next. If you're a question mark, you probably don't like making plans more than a day or two in advance, but you're also flexible, and slow to judge. You don't have a favorite food, but you might someday. Who knows?
Sorry, but ellipses fucking suck. Indecisive, yet somehow cheesy, they're always trailing off in the middle of jokes and hoping you'll supply the punchline. They take forever to order, so who knows what their favorite food is. And they're always leaving long, boring messages on your voicemail. If you're an ellipsis, consider transforming yourself into a better punctuation mark — like the dash.
National Punctuation Day [Official Site]