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'National Punctuation Day': Seeking to Put a (Full) Stop to Poor Writing


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AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster: the founder of National Punctuation Day.

RS: Sunday was the day for a "celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotes and other proper uses of periods, semicolons and the ever-mysterious ellipsis." So says Jeff Rubin, who is honest about why he created National Punctuation Day: for the publicity.

AA: But the former newspaper journalist, who now publishes newsletters for companies, says he was tired of all the mistakes and bad writing he sees in everyday life. So he did something about it.

JEFF RUBIN: "I picked punctuation because it's the thing about our language that frustrates me the most. I just don't understand why people can't get it right. It's not that difficult. You could buy a stylebook. 'The Elements of Style,' I think the pocket edition is ninety-four pages and that includes the index. If you read a page a day, in three months you'd be an expert."

RS: "Can you give us some hints that will make it easier for speakers and learners of English as a foreign language to better punctuate their sentences?"

JEFF RUBIN: "Well, here's one: In the United States, a comma and a period always go inside a closing quotation mark. In other parts of the world -- most prominently, in England -- they call the period a full stop. Sometimes the period and the comma are placed outside a quotation mark.

"Here's an easy way to know when to use i-t-apostrophe-s and i-t-s. When you write a sentence, read it back to yourself, and substitute the words 'it is' for its. If it does not make sense, then you're using it the wrong way. So, for example: 'It's a day for librarians, educators and parents.' So substitute 'it is': 'It is a day.' It sounds correct, so you would use it's.

"Here's another one: To make a singular word possessive, you use an apostrophe-s, even if the word already ends in an s."

AA: "Right, but some stylebooks would say you can leave off that last s and just put the apostrophe. Isn't that true?"

JEFF RUBIN: "Yeah. In fact, there's some controversy about that. 'The Elements of Style' is ... you add the apostrophe-s. The Associated Press, in its stylebook, has taken off the second s. So, you know, these are two -- I grew up with the AP Stylebook and I use that most times. My advice is to pick a style, since they're both accepted, pick a style and stick with it."

RS: "Be consistent here."

JEFF RUBIN: "Be consistent."

AA: "Let me ask you, so now you just marked the third annual National Punctuation Day. As far as you know, did any other Americans mark the day with you?"

JEFF RUBIN: "Just my friends and family. But seriously, I did a lot of media interviews and got letters from -- e-mails from all over the United States. Mostly from teachers, but a lot from older people who remember the way it used to be, when you didn't see mistakes in books, in magazines and newspapers, and when good writing skills and English skills were really taught well in the schools."

RS: Jeff Rubin, creator of National Punctuation Day, and who does business as The Newsletter Guy, speaking from California.

AA: Jeff Rubin and his wife have developed a program to teach elementary school children some punctuation rules. It's called "Punctuation Playtime," and includes a song called "Punctuation Rap."

RS: That's Wordmaster for this week. To hear more of "Punctuation Rap," log on to the Wordmaster Web site at voanews.com/wordmaster. With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

Excerpt from "Punctuation Rap":

PUNK, PUNK, PUNCTUATION

PUNK, PUNK, PUNCTUATION

I am a QUESTION MARK, what do I do?

I'm at the end of questions, like Where? What? or Who?

PUNK, PUNK, PUNCTUATION

PUNK, PUNK, PUNCTUATION

I am a PERIOD, that means full stop,

At the end of a sentence, just make a dot.

PUNK, PUNK, PUNCTUATION

PUNK, PUNK, PUNCTUATION

I am a COMMA, if you see me just pause,

So hang back, Jack, and think of what was.

PUNK, PUNK, PUNCTUATION

PUNK, PUNK, PUNCTUATION

QUOTATION MARKS hold the talking within,

So if somebody speaks, just look for the twins.

PUNK, PUNK, PUNCTUATION

PUNK, PUNK, PUNCTUATION

I am a COLON, I am two dots,

I'm the introducer, I express your thoughts.

PUNK, PUNK, PUNCTUATION

PUNK, PUNK, PUNCTUATION


VOA's Wordmaster
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Source: 'National Punctuation Day': Seeking to Put a (Full) Stop to Poor Writing
TEXT = http://www.voanews.com/specialenglish/archive/2006-09/2006-09-26-voa2.cfm?renderforprint=1
MP3 = http://www.voanews.com/mediaassets/specialenglish/2006_09/Audio/mp3/06-09-27national-punctuation-day.mp3