The Joys Of Punctuation – Or – Mind The Stop!

By Bernie Bell

I realise that my use of punctuation is a bit wayward.  I think maybe I use too many commas, and, if I’m not sure what to use, I use a dash.  I hardly ever use a colon or a semi-colon – maybe a subconscious association with innards?

I also have a tendency to spell thing how I think looks best – or go by what I most like the ’feel’ of, or the sound of, in a word.  I’ve been known to make up words, if I want something that fits – a tendency I share with my brother-in-law, who can have a very interesting way of expressing himself at times – and it works for him!

I remember him describing the way someone climbed over a wall, as being “like a – squirrel” – but I can’t quite catch the emphasis – the way he said it, in writing.  I also remember him describing someone as “anowlbagowabitch”.  Not kind, but, in that particular case, bang on the nail.

As long as the reader knows what I mean, I think my approach to use of language, is OK.  I do wonder though, what the readers of TON make of it, sometimes, and wonder should I tighten up a bit?  Then, I read a short story by Isaac Asimov called ‘Galley Slave’.

In this tale, The United States Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation develops a robot which can proof-read documents.

They lease this robot, to a University.  The idea being, that the robot can take the drudgery out of preparing something for publication.  The author can write the text, hand it over to the robot, who makes all the ’corrections’ necessary in punctuation, grammar – even changing a word if it considers  – ‘thinks’? – that a different word is more fitting.  Then, the robot sends the ’corrected’ text, to be published.

Meanwhile, the author has been freed to get on with their work  – research, teaching  etc.  But then, one of the authors using this facility, realises that this means that the text loses its humanity.  Erratic, individual, punctuation, use of grammar and words, is part of what gives a piece of work its creative ‘signature’.

This character points out that, for example a potter wouldn’t be content with designing and working out all the specifications for a piece of work, then handing them over to a machine, to turn out the end ‘product’. Because – it isn’t a product – it’s an expression of creative inspiration.

I think Orkney’s own Harray Potter, Andrew Appleby  would agree with this – he lets the inspiration flow, as he forms the pot. Sometimes starting with only a general concept, then, sitting down and letting the hand/mind connection do its work.

I think it’s the same with any form of art-work – folk often start with a general idea, go with the flow, sometimes changing direction along the way.  Sometimes learning from mistakes, sometimes  incorporating mistakes – or even, maybe, the mistake, becomes the work!

It’s rare that something ‘comes through’ in its entirety – it does happen, but I believe this to be quite rare.

That’s inspiration – it’s human, and a robot can’t have inspiration. Though, admittedly, some of Mr. Asimov’s other stories, do make you wonder  about that.

The perfect proof-reader, results in a perfect product, but the humanity, the individuality, is lost.

Would the next step be to simply give a robot an idea, and leave them to it?  If so, why bother with humans, at all?  A question which is presented, and answered, in many of Mr Asimov’s stories.

A bit like the recurring theme in many Star Trek episodes, of whether we humans are worth saving/preserving – with all our faults – or not?   And Captains Kirk and Picard always end up showing that we are.

These days – the Jury might be out on that one.

We could be said to be heading in the direction of ‘robot’ proof-readers, when using our personal computers.  I have to admit, that I find spell-check to be invaluable for de-Ewoking my text.  I should  explain about de-Ewoking.   Someone I used to know, said I reminded him of an Ewok  – the little bear-creatures in ‘The Return of the Jedi’ – one of the Star Wars films. I agreed – I am a bear, and have very Ewok inclinations in some ways.

Since I was poisoned by medication,  I have a Swiss Cheese Brain. In some ways, my thought processes are clear, and solid.  In some ways – all over the place – with big holes, especially where memory is concerned.  For some reason, it’s affected my typing.  When I first type, it comes out in Ewok – absolute gobbledygook – if I don’t check it straight away, even I can’t always tell what I was meaning to write.  So, I type it in, then I spell check, then I read it through again, as spell check sometimes gets confused, for example, between ‘form’ and ‘from’, and so, misses things.  Then I read through it yet again,  then it’s ready to send. Sometimes I get tired, and leave it, meaning to ‘tidy it up’ later. And this is when I sometimes press ‘Send’ instead of ‘Save’, and folk get the Ewok version. I then apologise, explain, and give them a translation. Makes life interesting.

I appreciate spell-check, but I do get cross when the machine puts squiggly lines under certain words, which it is questioning my use of.  I have been known to sit there, and tell it to **** off, and not tell me what to do with my words. A very human response.

There is a twist to the end of this tale, which I won’t give away, as it would spoil it, for if you want to read it.  It is a very human twist.

Isaac Asimov really does understand people, and technology, and how much thought and understanding is needed, for the two to work together successfully.

punctuation books credit Bell

2 replies »

  1. A nice piece, I enjoyed that. I agree about Spellcheck but at least it gives the option to “add to dictionary”. Grammarly is much worse, it thinks that only American English spellings are correct, drives me up the wall.

    • Yes – I know! Doesn’t help with Anglo-American relations in this house.
      Or maybe that should be Alba-American……..

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