Chaff's Picks: Battle of the Punctuation
BY CHIEF STAFF
Punctuation. We’ve all seen those cheesy quotes on the side of your English teacher’s desk. “Let’s eat grandma!” is concerning, while “Let’s eat, grandma!” is just an everyday sentence. But commas are only an introduction into the wonderful world of punctuation. Here at The Spectrum, punctuation pleases us, so enjoy some of our favorites.
The oxford comma is quite a controversial piece of punctuation. But if you’re a hater, take a look at this sentence: she likes grilled cheese, ricotta and apple, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. See that little hero between “apple” and “and”? That’s a wondrous oxford comma. Imagine the sentence without the comma: she likes grilled cheese, ricotta and apple and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. What kind of sandwiches does she like? We’ll never know! In lists of paired items, oxford commas truly save the day.
As a past English teacher has coined it, the “sexy semicolon” joins two associated sentences seamlessly. Personally, I pop in a semicolon when I don’t feel like writing a transition or to simply clarify the previous sentence. Is that a very good tip? No. Is it a useful tip? Yes! But only do so when it makes sense.
“In comparing them to moths, Nick suggests that the guests are simply drawn toward the light; that light attracts them.”
The cold colon: a dramatic, beautiful way to end a sentence. Colons deliver those mind blowing definitions with a theatrical flourish. Of course, they’re integral in note-taking, lab reports, and everyday lists, but they truly shine in paragraph-form writing! In English essays, I use colons to give examples of my analysis or define a spicy idea. And in conclusions, colons can tie together your argument in one beautiful clause.
A quick example from our Letter from the EICs this issue:
“Norms, normalization, normalcy, however you phrase it: all encompass the rhythm of life we’ve unconsciously settled for.”
And another from our completely, totally unbiased review of The Spectrum that was in the Back-To-School Issue:
“Finally, this was it: the hallucinatory scent of fresh ink, drifting from a copy of The Spectrum’s Back-To-School issue, which had fallen from a locker door in a forlorn yet graceful state.”
It’s a comma! It’s a colon! It’s…an em dash! As the most remarkable innovation, the em dash vaunts its versatility in writing. I crave the sight of pen licking paper, black ink melding into a line, and the writer roaring for that eureka moment—their invention of the em dash.
They’re the perfect punctuation for appositives or add-ons. To be honest, every single one of my college essays contains at least one em dash. Needless to say, we love em dashes here at The Spectrum—and you should too :)
An appositive (and physics-related!) example where an em dash is truly just superior to a boring set of commas:
“To appear still from a certain perspective, your velocity—both magnitude and direction—must match that of the frame of reference.”
Another example again from our lovely intro to The Spectrum’s last issue:
“But I was suddenly struck with a realization—my reverie was no pipe dream…”
Armed with these precise, powerful, passionate pieces of punctuation, you may now go forth and pave your own way in the world! And, of course, impress everyone you ever meet.