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Thursday, April 30, 2009

The joy of exclamation marks!

There is a town of 1,471 happy souls in Quebec called Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!. The second "Ha!", amazingly, is part of the town's name, not my commentary on the first "Ha!". Unlike, for example, the Devon town of Westward Ho! Ho! There, the second "Ho!" is mine. Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! is the only town in the world whose name has two exclamation marks. It will remain so until Wolverhampton is renamed Wolverhampton!! to highlight its funky new Black Country vibe, which, all things considered, seems unlikely.

In and out of style: Punctuation past and present

The full stop

It stops, and it will never stop being useful. Often used for rhetorical effect to break up sentences into. Significant. Words. Or phrases. Ed McBain wrote: "Oh, boy. What a week." The 1906 edition of the King's English lamented "spot-plague", meaning the full stop has to do all the work. In the intervening period, the full stop. Has. Done more work. Than Edwardian lexicographers. Would have thought possible.


I love ellipses, which are also experiencing a revival online (so easy not to finish a thought but instead to lean on your full-stop key .... ), and I use them to seem cleverer. Ellipses confer gravitas on banal thoughts ...

The comma

Use wrongly and hilarity ensues. Thus: "Mr Douglas Hogg said that he had shot, himself, as a young boy." Take out the commas, and Hogg mutates into someone who takes himself out.

The semi-colon

Yay or nay? Literary types divide over this. In France, they have been arguing about it histrionically. Lynne Truss argues that "they are the thermals that benignly waft our sentences to new altitudes". George Orwell once purged A Clergyman's Daughter of the semi-colons, arguing they were unnecessary.

The colon

Functional, utilitarian. Fowler said that, "the colon ... has acquired a special function, that of delivering the goods that have been invoiced in the preceding words". Dull, isn't it?

The question mark

Thanks to Australian uptalking, this, like the exclamation mark, is undergoing a renaissance? Now, it can be used at the end of any sentence? It makes everything you write read like Russell Crowe whining about the media? This, to be sure, is no advance? Or is it?

• This article was amended on Wednesday 29 April 2009. We referred to a German person starting a letter with the greeting 'Liebe Franz!" when we should have said 'Lieber Franz!'. This has been corrected.


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