Thoughts on style

@HilaryMantel ‘A Place of Greater Safety’, Camille thought: ‘… there’s nothing in this breathing world so gratifying as an artfully placed semi-colon.’ And I gleefully have to agree.

At risk of being accused of being a pedant and also of, at times, getting it wrong, correct punctuation, the placing of and enclosing of clauses, brings order to writing and therefore easier reading. Let’s face it the irresponsible choice and position of an apostrophe, as Lynne Truss pointed out, makes meaning impossible.

There is talk of abolishing those essential marks, taking a more ‘egaliatarian’ line when it comes to rules of spelling and punctuation. How sad that would be. To lose such an art form for what? Speed? Modernity?

It is only twenty years ago that they began to bring back the teaching of grammar into schools; the National Curriculum, of which much can be derided, required it be taught. And what a relief that was! No longer telling a child to put a comma where they thought a breath was required, but enabling a pupil with a proper explanation of how language works. Yes, we learn it as an oral craft; we do not ‘hear’ full stops, commas and that lovely semi-colon. Subordinate clauses – my favourite phrase – adding value to the main clause in sentences, paragraphs, chapters or documents; connectives, conjunctions, verb agreement, phraseology with metaphors, smilies, alliteration and all the other methods of making writing a joy.

Camille Desmoulins was instrumental in the French Revolution, inspired people to bring about a republic with his pamphlets, and he was finally imprisoned and executed at the guillotine. However to the last he believed in the power of language, writing in prison; ‘… I rest my head calmly upon the pillow of my writings.’

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