Punctuation Has Meaning

Each symbol represents an unuttered breath, a heartbeat, a full stop. You can’t just go replacing all the punctuation with hyphens and em-dashes. They have their own meanings and usages. Correct usage of punctuation is nigh on equally important to the voice, feel and cadence of your writing. It’s also incredibly important to the accurate conveyance of the intended meaning.

One of my favorites from childhood, because who doesn’t love picking on the city government, was a yellow, traffic-caution sign on the main road past my high school. There were several signs on that stretch, all reading,


Now, disregarding the gross misuse of all caps, because that’s fairly standard for messages expected to be viewed at 45 miles per hour; just say that one all in one go, like it’s written. See? Yep.

Here are some suggested uses of commas, all of which appeared as red-paint editing marks upon those signs at some point or other before 1993:

  1. Motorcycles, use caution ripples.
  2. Motorcycles, use caution. Ripples!
  3. Motorcycles use caution. Ripples.
  4. Motorcycles. Use caution. Ripples.

Of course, my friends and I started saying it as a greeting and salutation, like aloha, all in one breath, to the immense perturbment of my favorite English teacher of all time, Dr. Carmen Avila. If I didn’t know for a fact that she was a solidly law-abiding lady, back in the day, I might suspect she had something to do with those edits.

Punctuation, ya’ll.

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