The very best sign is the dotted line


There are few things more engrossing than punctuation. I think we can all agree on. That.

Punctuation allows us to disambiguate sentences. Where would we be without disambiguation?

Does the panda “Eat shoots and leaves”?

Or does the panda “Eat, shoots and leaves”?

I know what some of you are thinking: A column about punctuation? Who? Cares?

Well, I do.

What’s your favorite punctuation? The comma? Correctly placing a, comma, is an art.

How about the exclamation mark?

Maybe the semicolon? Kurt Vonnegut said, “Never use semicolons.”

George Bernard Shaw disliked apostrophes and only used them when he wrote “I’ll” and “he’ll” for obvious reasons.

My favorite? Is the ellipsis ...

An ellipsis consists of (three) dots after a space after a word. It may or may not be followed by punctuation or another word.

An ellipsis indicates an intentional omission of a word or words.

The Chicago Manual of Style requires a space between the dots; however, The Associated Press Stylebook (that’s what we use around here) says no.

When I meet someone who uses correct punctuation, I get lightheaded and my heartbeat accelerates.

For some, it’s a pretty woman or a handsome man. For me, it’s someone who knows their way around parentheses.

There are 14 punctuation marks that are used in the English language. How many can you name?

Anyone who can name all 14 without looking them up will move to my upper bracket of reader admiration.

Where would we be without punctuation?

There’s a big difference between “Let’s eat, Grandma,” and “Let’s eat Grandma.”

“Some people find inspiration in cooking their families and their dogs.”

Danish-American comedian and pianist Victor Borge did a routine called “Phonetic Punctuation.” If you want to hear what punctuation sounds like, go to YouTube.

An ellipsis can be used for a number of different ... let’s see ... reasons and purposes.

I often use an ellipsis when writing dialogue, and assume the reader will know how a sentence will end without ending it, perhaps followed by another speaker doing the job.

“The chief thinks the crook broke into the bakery and ...”

“... stole all the dough.”


I don’t know how old I was when I used my first ellipsis. Like everyone else, I’m sure my journey into punctuation began with periods and commas and progressed into parentheses or two.

From an early age, I knew I didn’t like exclamation marks. From an early age, I knew I didn’t understand colons.

(I wish they had found other names for colons and semicolons, don’t you?)

There’s another reason why I am fond of the ellipsis. The word itself is often confused with “ellipse.”

An ellipse is a regular oval shape and looks like a squashed circle. It’s what a circle looks like in perspective.

Imagine drawing a soup can: The lid is a circle, but when it is seen on a table, for example, it appears as an ellipse.

This is a basic drawing illusion that I mastered. In fact, I won the Regional Ellipse Drawing Championship when I was a junior in college.

I would have moved on to the National Championship being held that year in Circleville, Ohio, but I dashed into a door and was in a comma for days.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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