December 12, 2013

COMMENTARY: What your favorite punctuation mark says about you

Alexandra Petri

Your favorite punctuation mark says boatloads about you. Here’s the rundown:

,: You cannot get enough of items in a series!

@: This isn’t a punctuation mark.

#: You’re on Twitter a lot, often starting sentences with “HASHTAG: DULL” or “HASHTAG: AWKWARD!”

%: This isn’t a punctuation mark.

$: This isn’t a punctuation mark either. You’re trapped in the non-punctuation area of the keyboard! Call someone over to help.

~: Do you know what this is used for? If so, tell me. I think French people use it sometimes, maybe in soups. I avoid it like the plague, or like people who try to make conversation on airplanes, or like people on airplanes displaying plague-like symptoms.

.: Ah, the period. Formerly the mark of a complete thought. No longer, since no one has had a complete thought since 1998 because they have to stop in the middle to check email. Now, the period is reduced to being used in emails to indicate that you are irrationally angry or disappointed about something. Contrast “Yes, Dave, I got the file!” with “Yes, Dave, I got the file.” Is something good about to happen to Dave after that second sentence? I should say not.

Oxford comma: You are a person who insists on telling other people how good your grammar is and how much you care about it. You get a lot of support on the Internet, but in person you’re insufferable. Like most people who get a lot of support on the Internet.

-: You were trying to use an em-dash, but you didn’t know which keys to push.

;: You’re a jerk who read one book by Foucault and it’s the only thing you ever talk about now. Worse, you’ve taken a useful punctuation mark and ruined it for the unpretentious writers among us, the same thing hipsters are always doing to perfectly nice cheap beers.

—: You were trying to use an em-dash, and you did know which keys to push! Good on you. I bet you have your life in order and go grocery shopping regularly.

&: “Ampersand,” like “baggage carousel” & “gherkin” & “roux,” is a lot more fun to say than it is to use. A simple “+” could achieve everything you just did with the ampersand, but without wasting so much ink and looking like a drunk cursive G that tripped and got tangled in an S and decided to play it off instead of going home to change. You clearly don’t care about the functionality of punctuation. I bet you use punctuation marks made of metal as home decorations. With tea lights. What are you, a Pinterest page? Stop.

?: These were fun at first? But when you end every sentence with one? You make me want to punch you on the mazzard?

!: This used to mean you were exuberant and laughing at your own joke, but now it has to be used all the time in emails so you won’t seem horribly upset.

“ ”: As long as you don’t make these with your fingers when you talk, these mark you as a solid individual. You like to cite your sources. You like accuracy. You are, therefore, completely unsuited to much of Internet life, with its joyous orgy of constant reappropriation. That, or you are one of those people who writes signs for restaurants advertising “FRESH” FOOD.

:: The colon is the only punctuation mark that shares a name with a body part that helps you digest, except for the cecum, which is the pet name I just assigned to that 7/8 thing I was wondering about earlier!

( ): Parentheses look classy and all. “I can afford information that isn’t even needed in this sentence,” they say. “Later I’ll burn it or feed it to a stray cat or something!” But who uses them for their intended purpose? No, it’s all about the emoticons.

^: “Look up!” you like to say. I don’t know much about you, other than that you are not Inspector Javert. You could be one of those guys at the National Security Agency who likes to put noses on your emoticons. Weirdo.

*: You love to insert footnotes, even when nobody called for them.*

| : What is this thing? How do you use it in a sentence? It looks like a stripper pole for apostrophes.

\ : Backslash, huh? You must be a fan of Internet 1.0.

/: Slash, huh? Have you ever tried googling this?

< >: These can’t be your favorites. When do you ever use them? They’re sort of cool until you pause to consider them, sort of like those albino twins in the second “Matrix” film.

*And who can blame you?

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog at washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost.
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