Hierarchy

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Information about Hierarchy
Education

Published on March 3, 2008

Author: Calogera

Source: authorstream.com

Slide1:  Rather than thinking of a punctuation as a series of random codes with arbitrary (and usually frustratingly inconsistent) meanings, it is helpful to see punctuation as a system of markings that provides different degrees of separation and emphasis. This self-guided tutorial is designed to help explain the concept of punctuation as a hierarchical system and provide examples of how writers can raise and lower punctuation levels to send signals to their readers. You may navigate through the tutorial simply by clicking different parts of the table. All punctuation separates for a reason. Punctuation tells readers how to read by indicating points of separation and emphasis. Slide2:  Hierarchy of Punctuation Click on sections of the table for further explanation and examples Slide3:  Hierarchy of Punctuation Click on sections of the table for further explanation and examples Slide4:  Hierarchy of Punctuation Click on sections of the table for further explanation and examples Slide5:  Hierarchy of Punctuation Click on sections of the table for further explanation and examples Slide6:  Hierarchy of Punctuation Click on sections of the table for further explanation and examples Slide7:  Hierarchy of Punctuation Click on sections of the table for further explanation and examples Slide8:  Hierarchy of Punctuation Click on sections of the table for further explanation and examples Slide9:  Hierarchy of Punctuation Click on sections of the table for further explanation and examples Slide10:  Hierarchy of Punctuation Click on sections of the table for further explanation and examples Slide11:  Hierarchy of Punctuation Click on sections of the table for further explanation and examples Slide12:  Hierarchy of Punctuation Click on sections of the table for further explanation and examples Slide13:  If the word or words in question make up a sentence interrupter, you must use paired marks. You can choose from commas, parentheses, or dashes. They too form a hierarchy, based on how much they emphasize the interrupter and separate it from the sentence. Hierarchy of Paired Punctuation Slide14:  If the word or words in question make up a sentence interrupter, you must use paired marks. You can choose from commas, parentheses, or dashes. They too form a hierarchy, based on how much they emphasize the interrupter and separate it from the sentence. Hierarchy of Paired Punctuation In “Graven Images,” Bellow discusses the tension between the perception and reality of photography as a medium for communicating neutral and apolitical truths. His two interrupters add crucial meaning to his argument. The first is important in establishing Bellow’s objectivity. He calls extra attention to the fact that his admiration for “excellent photographers” is ongoing, thus positioning himself as a fair, moderate critic of photography. In the second interrupter, he emphasizes the phrase “or long,” adding extra power to an idea of crucial importance to his argument: the human longing, which is different from mere hoping, to experience and understand reality. In both cases, the use of paired dashes calls attention to phrases whose importance could be missed if the level of separation and emphasis were lowered. Slide15:  If the word or words in question make up a sentence interrupter, you must use paired marks. You can choose from commas, parentheses, or dashes. They too form a hierarchy, based on how much they emphasize the interrupter and separate it from the sentence. Hierarchy of Paired Punctuation Later Early will return to and further develop the ideas of the Miss America pageant as a created cultural commodity and as a rite of passage, but for now he is mainly focused on the reactions of his wife and daughters to its ritualistic femininity. This is probably why he chooses to include the aside in the interrupter (planting seeds of ideas he will return to later) but keep the level of emphasis neutral. Parentheses are ideal for this scenario. Had he used dashes, Early’s readers would see the interrupter as very important, and expect that he would pick up one of these ideas (the pageant’s relationship to football or fall, or its commercial origins) in the next sentence. Had he used commas, the extra information would become confusingly convoluted with the main body of the sentence. It would be difficult to identify as extra, but not immediately applicable, information. Parentheses provide a compromise between these two extremes. Slide16:  If the word or words in question make up a sentence interrupter, you must use paired marks. You can choose from commas, parentheses, or dashes. They too form a hierarchy, based on how much they emphasize the interrupter and separate it from the sentence. Hierarchy of Paired Punctuation Here Carson includes two interrupters. In the first, she allows her readers to see with her by sketching the landscape’s images. In the second she helps to clarify her thoughts with a bit of extra explanation. Both interrupters blend seamlessly, and appropriately, into the ideas of the sentence, without undue emphasis over or separation from them. Additionally, the smooth alternations between the main body and interrupters gives this sentence a gentle rhythmic pulse that mimics the tides she discusses: Carson’s use of hierarchically low commas, then, has an interesting artistic, as well as practical, function. looking back across that immense flat crossed by winding, water-filled gullies and here and there holding shallow pools of left by the tide I was filled with awareness that this intertidal area although abandoned briefly and rhythmically by the sea is always reclaimed by the rising tide Degree of Separation and Emphasis:  Degree of Separation and Emphasis Twain provides a particularly good demonstration of how the hierarchy attempts to conceptualize the subtlety of punctuation. None of these options is right or wrong. They are simply different. You are able to choose which degree of separation and emphasis is most appropriate for the rhetorical situation—the subject, audience, and purpose—of your writing. Here’s a trick: Type “man is the only creature that blushes” into an internet search engine, and you will find numerous references to a famous Mark Twain quote. You will also find that the punctuation varies. Ignoring, or unaware of, how Twain punctuated this quip, quoters seem to do whatever they want. Consider the following: Degree of Separation and Emphasis:  Degree of Separation and Emphasis Twain provides a particularly good demonstration of how the hierarchy attempts to conceptualize the subtlety of punctuation. None of these options is right or wrong. They are simply different. You are able to choose which degree of separation and emphasis is most appropriate for the rhetorical situation—the subject, audience, and purpose—of your writing. Here’s a trick: Type “man is the only creature that blushes” into an internet search engine, and you will find numerous references to a famous Mark Twain quote. You will also find that the punctuation varies. Ignoring, or unaware of, how Twain punctuated this quip, quoters seem to do whatever they want. Consider the following: Degree of Separation and Emphasis:  Degree of Separation and Emphasis Twain provides a particularly good demonstration of how the hierarchy attempts to conceptualize the subtlety of punctuation. None of these options is right or wrong. They are simply different. You are able to choose which degree of separation and emphasis is most appropriate for the rhetorical situation—the subject, audience, and purpose—of your writing. Here’s a trick: Type “man is the only creature that blushes” into an internet search engine, and you will find numerous references to a famous Mark Twain quote. You will also find that the punctuation varies. Ignoring, or unaware of, how Twain punctuated this quip, quoters seem to do whatever they want. Consider the following: Degree of Separation and Emphasis:  Degree of Separation and Emphasis Twain provides a particularly good demonstration of how the hierarchy attempts to conceptualize the subtlety of punctuation. None of these options is right or wrong. They are simply different. You are able to choose which degree of separation and emphasis is most appropriate for the rhetorical situation—the subject, audience, and purpose—of your writing. Here’s a trick: Type “man is the only creature that blushes” into an internet search engine, and you will find numerous references to a famous Mark Twain quote. You will also find that the punctuation varies. Ignoring, or unaware of, how Twain punctuated this quip, quoters seem to do whatever they want. Consider the following: Degree of Separation and Emphasis:  Degree of Separation and Emphasis Twain provides a particularly good demonstration of how the hierarchy attempts to conceptualize the subtlety of punctuation. None of these options is right or wrong. They are simply different. You are able to choose which degree of separation and emphasis is most appropriate for the rhetorical situation—the subject, audience, and purpose—of your writing. Here’s a trick: Type “man is the only creature that blushes” into an internet search engine, and you will find numerous references to a famous Mark Twain quote. You will also find that the punctuation varies. Ignoring, or unaware of, how Twain punctuated this quip, quoters seem to do whatever they want. Consider the following: Slide22:  Degree of Separation and Emphasis Twain provides a particularly good demonstration of how the hierarchy attempts to conceptualize the subtlety of punctuation. None of these options is right or wrong. They are simply different. You are able to choose which degree of separation and emphasis is most appropriate for the rhetorical situation—the subject, audience, and purpose—of your writing. Here’s a trick: Type “man is the only creature that blushes” into an internet search engine, and you will find numerous references to a famous Mark Twain quote. You will also find that the punctuation varies. Ignoring, or unaware of, how Twain punctuated this quip, quoters seem to do whatever they want. Consider the following: Slide23:  Here’s a trick: Type “man is the only creature that blushes” into an internet search engine, and you will find numerous references to a famous Mark Twain quote. You will also find that the punctuation varies. Ignoring, or unaware of, how Twain punctuated this quip, quoters seem to do whatever they want. Consider the following: Twain provides a particularly good demonstration of how the hierarchy attempts to conceptualize the subtlety of punctuation. None of these options is right or wrong. They are simply different. You are able to choose which degree of separation and emphasis is most appropriate for the rhetorical situation—the subject, audience, and purpose—of your writing. Degree of Separation and Emphasis Slide24:  Section Break Time Place Narrative voice Content Focus Purpose Slide25:  Section Break Time Place Narrative voice Content Focus Purpose Thereafter Stickeen was a changed dog. During the rest of the trip, instead of holding aloof, he always lay by my side, tried to keep me constantly in sight, and would hardly accept a morsel of food, however tempting, from any hand but mine. At night, when all was quiet about the camp-fire, he would come to me and rest his head on my knee with a look of devotion as if I were his god. And often as he caught my eye he seemed to be trying to say, ‘Wasn’t that an awful time we had together on the glacier?” Nothing in after years has dimmed that Alaska storm-day. As I write it all comes rushing and roaring to mind as if I were again in the heart of it. Again I see the gray flying clouds with their rain-floods and snow, the ice-cliffs towering above the shrinking forest, the majestic ice-cascade, the vast glacier outspread before its white mountain fountains, and in the heart of it the tremendous crevasse—emblem of the valley of the shadow of death—low clouds trailing over it, the snow falling into it; and on its brink I see little Stickeen, and I hear his cries for help and his shouts of joy. (John Muir, “Stickeen”) Muir’s section break emphasizes several changes. The most obvious is the new time and place; years have passed, and he is no longer in the Alaskan wilderness. But these are related to a more significant shift; he has moved from a narrative focus to a reflective one. Finished with his story, he pauses to ponder its larger significance. Slide26:  Section Break I buy Vermont Avenue for $100. My opponent is a tall shadowy figure, across from me, but I know him well, and I know his game like a favorite tune. If he can, he will always go for the quick kill. And when it is foolish to go for the quick kill he will be foolish. On the whole, though, he is a master assessor of percentages. It is a mistake to underestimate him. His eleven carries his top hat to St. Charles Place, which he buys for $140. The sidewalks of St. Charles Place have been cracked to shards by through-growing weeds. There are no buildings. Mansions, hotels once stood here. A few street lamps now drop cones of light on broken glass and vacant space behind a chain-link fence that some great machine has in places bent to the ground. Five plane trees—in full summer leaf, flecking the light—are all that live on St. Charles Place. (John McPhee, “The Search for Marvin Gardens”) In this essay, McPhee’s section breaks emphasize his narrative structure, which shifts back and forth between his descriptions of one particular game of monopoly and his exploration of corresponding real-life points in Atlantic City, on which the monopoly board is based. The section breaks signal these changes to the reader by making a distinction between normal paragraph breaks within passages and the movement between the two distinct narrative contexts. Time Place Narrative voice Content Focus Purpose Slide27:  Section Break The clown’s glance was like the glance of Rembrandt in some of the self-portraits: lively, knowing, deep, and loving. The crinkled shadows around his eyes were string beans. His eyebrows were parsley. Each of his ears was a broad bean. His thin, joyful lips were red chili peppers; between his lips were wet rows of human teeth and a suggestion of a real tongue. The clown print was framed in gilt and glassed. To put ourselves in the path of the total eclipse, that day we had driven five hours inland from the Washington coast, where we lived. When we tried to cross the Cascades range, an avalanche had blacked the pass. A slopes worth of snow blocked the road; traffic backed up. Had the avalanche buried any cars that morning? We could not learn. The highway was the only winter road over the mountains. (Annie Dillard, “Total Eclipse”) Dillard makes liberal use of section breaks, a technique that mirrors her somewhat fragmented, collage-like writing style. The section breaks signal that a particular thought, image, or event is complete (at least for now) and that she intends to move on to something new. The added separation provided by the section breaks helps her readers navigate her dense, interwoven ideas. Time Place Narrative voice Content Focus Purpose Slide28:  Paragraph Slide29:  Paragraph We lived in the very heart of the local Black Belt. There were black churches and black preachers, there were black schools and black teachers; black groceries and black clerks. In fact, everything was so solidly black that for a long time I did not even think of white folks, save in remote and vague terms. But this could not last forever. As one grows older one eats more. One’s clothing costs more. When I finished grammar school I had to go to work. My mother could no longer feed and clothe me on her cooking job. There is but one place where a black boy who knows no trade can get a job, and that’s where the houses and faces are white, where the trees, lawns, and hedges are green. My first job was with an optical company in Jackson, Mississippi. The morning I applied I stood straight and neat before the boss, answering all his questions with sharp yessirs and nosirs. I was very careful to pronounce my sirs distinctly, in order that he might know that I was polite, that I knew where I was, and that I knew he was a white man. I wanted that job badly. (Richard Wright, “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow”) Wright uses the paragraph break to move his narrative one step forward. The change of focus and mood from reflection to action makes the separation of a paragraph appropriate. The two sections are solidly linked, however, by the strong transitional sentences that end the first and begin the second paragraph. Slide30:  Paragraph We are told that the trouble with Modern Man is that he has been trying to detach himself from nature. He sits in the topmost tiers of polymer, glass, and steel, dangling his pulsing legs, surveying at a distance the writhing life of the planet. In this scenario, Man comes on as a stupendous lethal force, and the earth is pictured as something delicate, like rising bubbles at the surface of a country pond, or flights of fragile birds. But it is illusion to think that there is anything fragile about the life of the earth; surely this is the toughest membrane imaginable in the universe, opaque to probability, impermeable to death. We are the delicate part, transient and vulnerable as cilia. Nor is it a new thing for man to invent an existence that he imagines to be above the rest of life; this has been his most consistent intellectual exertion down the millennia. As illusion, it has never worked out to his satisfaction in the past, any more than it does today. Man is embedded in nature. (Lewis Thomas, “The Lives of a Cell”) Here Thomas organizes complex ideas into elegant, balanced paragraphs. The first is devoted to description of a popular perception, and the second offers Thomas’s correction of the belief. The break keeps these ideas separate, while the first word of the second section (the coordinating conjunction “but”) gives the reader a general sense of what Thomas will do even before he does it. Slide31:  Paragraph Trying to cling to something, I liked doctors and girl children up to the age of about thirteen and well-brought-up boy children from about eight years old on. I could have peace and happiness with these few categories of people. I forgot to add that I liked old men—men over seventy, sometimes over sixty if their faces looked seasoned. I liked Katherine Hepburn’s face on the screen, no matter what was said about her pretentiousness, and Miriam Hopkins’ face, and old friends if I only saw them once a year and could remember their ghosts. All rather inhuman and undernourished, isn’t it? Well, that, children, is the true sign of cracking up. It is not a pretty picture. Inevitably it was carted here and there within its frame and exposed to various critics. One of them can only be described as a person whose life makes other people’s lives seem like death—even this time when she was cast in the usually unappealing role of Job’s comforter. (F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Crack-Up”) Fitzgerald’s form matches his subject in this piece. The disjointed, manic quality of the paragraph breaks reflects the process of “cracking up” that he describes. In this passage, the breaks place a particularly strong accent on the short middle paragraph. This pair of sentences is already unusual in its conversational tone, implied distance, and direct address to the audience. Its isolation adds even more emphasis. Slide32:  . ! ? Terminal ? ! . Slide33:  . ! ? Terminal ? ! . Just as the first mystery was how a poem could have a tune in such a straightness of meter, so the second mystery is how a poem can have wildness and at the same time a subject that shall be fulfilled. It should be the pleasure of a poem itself to tell how it can. The figure a poem makes. It begins in delight and ends in wisdom. (Robert Frost, “The Figure a Poem Makes”) One rhetorical strategy clearly evident in this passage is the use of sentence variety. The first three sentences get progressively shorter, moving from the elegant parallel structure of the long first sentence to the brief fragment that is the third. This third sentence is particularly notable because Frost’s use of terminal punctuation is, according to traditional rules, a mistake. Considered in terms of the hierarchy and rhetorical situation, however, this choice makes sense. The use of an unconventionally high level of punctuation gives this phrase—the key idea of the essay—a sense of separation and emphasis that would otherwise be missing. Frost also tickles his reader’s expectations. Because we have the expectation that sentences will do more than this one has, we read eagerly ahead, seeking a clearer sense of what the writer means. Slide34:  . ! ? Terminal ? ! . Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company! It’s beyond me. (Zora Neale Hurston, “How It Feels to Be Colored Me”) Here Hurston uses simple, accessible language and structure to make her point with power, clarity, and humor. Each sentence builds on and responds to the ideas of the previous, and at the same time is neatly self contained. Hurston could have easily combined all of these ideas into a single, moderately long sentence, but instead she structures this short paragraph as a series of crisp, punchy statements, taking advantage of the high level of emphasis provided by terminal punctuation. Notice too the use of the exclamation point at the end of the question in the third sentence. Rather than using the traditional terminal punctuation (a question mark), Hurston heightens the liveliness of the sentence still further with the exclamation point. Slide35:  . ! ? Terminal ? ! . Poetry is cathartic only for the unserious, for in front of the rush of expressive need stands the barrier of form, and when the hurdler’s scissored legs and outstretched arms carry him over the bars, the limp in his life, the headache in his heart, the emptiness he’s full of, are as absent as his street shoes, which will pinch and scrape his feet in all the old leathery ways once the race is over and he has to walk through the front door of his future like a brushman with some feckless patter and a chintzy plastic prize. (William H. Gass, “The Doomed in Their Sinking”) Demonstrating a striking mastery of organization, Gass punctuates this remarkably long yet readable sentence with only a few commas. It is the absence of terminal punctuation in this passage, then, that makes it particularly notable. Unlike Hurston, who in Example 2 breaks a long idea into short, forceful chunks, Gass develops the extended metaphor of the athlete and the poet within a single sentence, lending it a sense of unified elegance that creates an interesting contrast with the vivid, visceral images and textures it contains. Though the basic ideas might remain, this overall sense of unity would certainly be diminished if separation were added in the form of additional terminal punctuation. Slide36:  ; Semicolon ; Slide37:  ; Semicolon ; In none of these people have I discerned what I would call a neurosis, an “exaggerated” fear; I have discerned only a natural caution in a world made up of gadgets that whir and whine and shriek and sometimes explode. (James Thurber, “Sex Ex Machina”) Thurber’s use of the semi-colon is textbook; he joins a pair of independent clauses. The first expresses an idea in fairly simple terms, and the second offers further refinement of the idea. This usage is also in keeping with the question-answer relationship. Though the first phrase is not a direct question, it does pose an idea that is “answered” in the second half: “I don’t think this; I do think this.” Consider the alternatives. Thurber could have raised the level of separation with a period, or he could have lowered it with a comma plus the coordinating conjunction “but.” The semi-colon provides a very effective middle ground. Slide38:  ; Semicolon ; I felt betrayed when, in some tumble of touch football twenty years ago, I heard my tibia snap; and when, between two reading engagements in Cleveland, my appendix tried to burst; and when, the other day, not for the first time, there arose to my nostrils out of my own body the musty attic smell my grandfather’s body had. (John Updike, “The Disposable Rocket”) Updike connects a series of independent clauses with semi-colons in this sentence. Interestingly, he also uses the coordinating conjunction “and” after each semi-colon, a bit of an unusual move, since coordinating conjunctions like “and” are typically paired with commas, not higher-level punctuation. Consider the independent clauses he connects, however. Each is complex, and contains a subordinated element that is set aside by commas (“in some tumble match of touch football twenty years ago,” “ between two reading engagements in Cleveland,” and “ not for the first time”). If the clauses were separated by serial commas, the reader could find it difficult to distinguish between these and the subordinating commas and become confused about where items in this complex list begin and end. Slide39:  ; Semicolon ; The androgyne is certainly one of the great images of Camp sensibility. Examples: the swooning, slim, sinuous figures of pre-Raphaelite painting and poetry; the thin, flowing, sexless bodies in Art Nouveau prints and posters, presented in relief on lamps and ashtrays; the haunting androgynous vacancy behind the perfect beauty of Greta Garbo. (Susan Sontag, “Notes on ‘Camp’”) As in Example 2, the semi-colons here are used to separate elements (and thus improve readability) of a series of items containing commas. Unlike the previous example, however, each item is not an independent clause. The placement of the semi-colon between items in a complex list is the one instance in which it may separate phrases that are not independent clauses. Note that Sontag breaks a rule by failing to have an independent clause before the colon. In the context of this informal essay, which is structured as a long list, Sontag uses multiple sentences like the one above. After showing her mastery of this complex list structure in many other instances, she is arguably within her rhetorical rights to abbreviate it here. Slide40:  : Colon : Slide41:  : Colon : The illustrations were right down my alley: a heroine so poor she was ragged, a witch with an extremely pointed hat, a rich, crusty old gentleman in—better than a wheelchair—a runaway carriage; and I set to. (Eudora Welty, “A Sweet Devouring”) Here, Welty uses the classic list introduction function of the colon. Positioned after the introductory clause, (“The illustrations were right up my alley”) it indicates to the reader that some kind of clarification is coming. A list of descriptions follows, making this sentence a good example of the general to specific relationship the colon often highlights. Throughout the sentence, Welty uses careful punctuation to send signals to her readers. The use of the colon calls attention to the descriptions of illustrations by both preparing the reader for them and separating them from the rest of the sentence. The lack of “and” before the final item in the list (the “rich, crusty old gentleman”) implies that the list could go on. Welty also makes interesting use of dashes and the semicolon. Consider the effect of the succinct “and I set to” following the lengthy list. Slide42:  : Colon : I recall looking at a house around the corner with a rental sign on it: this house had once been the Canadian consulate, had 28 large rooms and two refrigerated fur closets, and could be rented, in the spirit of the neighborhood, only on a month-to-month basis, unfurnished. (Joan Didion, “The White Album”) Didion uses the colon to introduce a list of specific details about the house she alludes to in the introductory clause. Her usage is somewhat unusual, however, as the list that follows is another complete independent clause. Didion could have easily and correctly replaced the colon with a period, and made the list into its own sentence. The context of this sentence may offer some insight into the reasoning behind Didion’s punctuation. The sentence appears in a paragraph where she is focused primarily on describing the fragile, decadent decrepitude of the neighborhood. This particular house is just one example of the strange atmosphere. By lowering the punctuation from a period to a colon, Didion keeps the example within a single sentence and avoids potentially signaling that the house is going to be the focus of attention. Slide43:  : Colon : From this, it would seem, followed the querulous obstinacy with which the anti-Semite clung to his concept; to be deprived of this intellectual tool by missionaries of tolerance would be, for persons like the colonel, the equivalent of Western man’s losing the syllogism: a lapse into animal darkness. (Mary McCarthy, “Artists in Uniform) Though the colon often consists of a brief general statement followed by more detailed and specific explanation, it may also serve the opposite function: summing things up. McCarthy offers an analysis of the twisted reasoning behind anti-Semitism that includes a complex comparison (“Western man’s losing the syllogism”). She punctuates this more detailed explanation with a concise summary (“a lapse into animal darkness”). Thinking in terms of hierarchical punctuation options, McCarthy’s use of the colon makes sense. The punctuation could be lowered to a comma, but this would also reduce the emphasis that the colon places on the final phrase. A dash would also work well here, a reminder that sometimes punctuation is as much about personal stylistic choices as rules or correctness. Slide44:  — Dash — Slide45:  — Dash — The peculiar, dank smell of wood rot and mildew, in one of the houses I most recall that had partly burned down, the smell of smoke and scorch, in early summer pervading even the lyric smell of honeysuckle—these haunting smells, never, at the time of experiencing, given specific sources, names. (Joyce Carol Oates, “They All Just Went Away”) In this essay, Oates’ punctuation is somewhat unconventional. She frequently uses sentence fragments like the one above and other technically questionable devices in rendering this highly atmospheric portrait of childhood experience. This sentence is a good example of tone overriding technical usage. The dash divides it into two parts, but neither is a complete sentence. The first part provides vivid and specific sensory details; the second sums up her general perception of these details. The dash, then, sets aside additional information, even though the context is a sentence fragment. Note, too, that the focus shifts from specific to general, a relationship that the dash often highlights. Finally, Oates’ frequent and diverse of use of dashes, a casual and flexible piece of punctuation, fits with the general tone of the essay. Slide46:  — Dash — There were also the high, nasal notes of middle-class American speech—which I rarely am conscious of hearing today because I hear them so often, but could not stop hearing when I was a boy. (Richard Rodriguez, “Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood”) Rodriguez’s use of the dash is hierarchically interesting in this sentence because it so clearly represents a decision to move up the scale, raising the level of separation and emphasis. A comma would be a more conventional choice. Consider, though, how the words after the dash (particularly the phrase “which I rarely am conscious of hearing today . . .”) are given more emphasis than they would have if the parts had been smoothly and quietly joined by a comma. Using a dash to catch his readers eye, Rodriguez subtly calls attention to his adult perception—reminding his readers that this essay is about the contrast between shifting perspectives (like the adult/child perspectives he alludes to here). Were he to have used a comma, this sentence would have seemed weighted toward the child’s perspective rather than shared equally between child and adult. Slide47:  — Dash — He had been born in New Orleans and had been a quite young man there during the time that Louis Armstrong, a boy, was running errands for the dives and honky-tonks of what was always presented to me as one of the most wicked of cities—to this day, whenever I think of New Orleans, I also helplessly think of Sodom and Gomorrah. (James Baldwin, “Notes of a Native Son”) Here Baldwin places a dash between independent clauses, a more unconventional usage. Either a period could correctly separate the two completely, or a semi-colon could correctly join them, maintaining a close connection but adding a degree of separation that the dash erases. Consider what he accomplishes by using the dash, however. The intensity and irony of the last sentence are enhanced by the punchline effect of the dash in a way that would be less dramatic with a higher level of separation. There are also many ideas in the sentence—Baldwin’s father, Louis Armstrong, the city—and a reader might expect a semi-colon to introduce a thought that covers them all. The dash seems to join what follows more directly to the one idea that immediately precedes it—namely, New Orleans as a wicked city. Slide48:  , Comma , Slide49:  , Comma , Slide50:  Pause Technique At some point, most people are told that it is a good idea to put commas where you naturally pause when reading a sentence aloud. This is well-intentioned but problematic advice because it is based on the dubious assumption that our speaking conventions follow punctuation rules. Most of us ignore many basic grammatical rules when we are speaking (things that we can actually hear and evaluate), and punctuation disappears entirely in speech. Nobody says “Hi comma Bob period.” But the pause rule is useful in the sense that it gets the writer thinking about where separation and emphasis should occur in a sentence. So is there any way to salvage this old trick? The answer is yes. It takes some time and attention, however. To make the pause strategy more effective, try it like this: For instance, one common point of comma confusion is whether commas are placed before or after coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). Try reading this sentence aloud with an exaggerated pause in both places: I love eating bananas but (pause) I hate slipping on the peels. I love eating bananas (pause) but I hate slipping on the peels. Commas are placed before coordinating conjunctions. The second example should sound more natural. Slide51:  Avoid separating the subject and predicate with a comma. Complete sentences all have a subject (the noun or noun phrase that functions as the sentence topic) and predicate (the comment made about the subject). It is almost always a bad idea to break up these main sentence parts with a comma. In simple sentences, this principle is obvious and visible. Consider the following: Not only does the second sentence look odd, the problem of too much separation is obvious. It makes no sense to separate the subject (“The elevator operator”) from the action he performed (“chuckled”). But we usually write in much longer and more complex sentences, and that is where things get trickier. Often writers suspect that there is a kind of quota system for commas, and are nervous about a long string of unpunctuated text, like this one: The elevator operator chuckled. versus The elevator operator, chuckled. The burly man selling soaps and powders outside of city hall offered me a coupon for a complimentary shampoo and styling at Harry’s Famous Original Uptown Barbershop. Writers might be inclined to punctuate this sentence in a couple of ways. Thinking hierarchically—i.e. considering whether it makes sense to include the separation and emphasis added by even the lowly comma—can help writers to avoid the common problem of comma overuse. Slide52:  Avoid separating the subject and predicate with a comma. Complete sentences all have a subject (the noun or noun phrase that functions as the sentence topic) and predicate (the comment made about the subject). It is almost always a bad idea to break up these main sentence parts with a comma. In simple sentences, this principal obvious and visible. Consider the following: Not only does the second sentence look odd, the problem of too much separation is obvious. It makes no sense to separate the subject (“The elevator operator”) from the action he performed (“chuckled”). But we usually write in much longer and more complex sentences, and that is where things get trickier. Often writers suspect that there is a kind of quota system for commas, and are nervous about a long string of unpunctuated text, like this one: The elevator operator chuckled. versus The elevator operator, chuckled. The burly man selling soaps and powders outside of city hall offered me a coupon for a complimentary shampoo and styling at Harry’s Famous Original Uptown Barbershop. The burly man selling soaps and powders outside of city hall, offered me a coupon for a complimentary shampoo and styling at Harry’s Famous Original Uptown Barbershop. Here the subject (“The burly man selling soaps and powders outside of city hall”) has been separated from the predicate (“offered me a coupon for a complimentary shampoo and styling at Harry’s Famous Original Uptown Barbershop”). The separation is inappropriate. The comma, then, should be removed. Thinking hierarchically—i.e. considering whether it makes sense to include the separation and emphasis added by even the lowly comma—can help writers to avoid the common problem of comma overuse. Slide53:  Avoid separating the subject and predicate with a comma. Complete sentences all have a subject (the noun or noun phrase that functions as the sentence topic) and predicate (the comment made about the subject). It is almost always a bad idea to break up these main sentence parts with a comma. In simple sentences, this principal obvious and visible. Consider the following: Not only does the second sentence look odd, the problem of too much separation is obvious. It makes no sense to separate the subject (“The elevator operator”) from the action he performed (“chuckled”). But we usually write in much longer and more complex sentences, and that is where things get trickier. Often writers suspect that there is a kind of quota system for commas, and are nervous about a long string of unpunctuated text, like this one: The elevator operator chuckled. versus The elevator operator, chuckled. The burly man selling soaps and powders outside of city hall offered me a coupon for a complimentary shampoo and styling at Harry’s Famous Original Uptown Barbershop. The burly man selling soaps and powders outside of city hall offered me a coupon, for a complimentary shampoo and styling at Harry’s Famous Original Uptown Barbershop. This punctuation is tempting, because the stuff in front of the comma forms a complete thought. But what about the stuff after? The lengthy phrase that follows is connected to the word “coupon.” It is fairly obvious why you wouldn’t punctuate a shorter phrase this way (something like “a coupon, for a toothbrush”). This string of words may be longer, but the principal is the same. No comma is necessary. Thinking hierarchically—i.e. considering whether it makes sense to include the separation and emphasis added by even the lowly comma—can help writers to avoid the common problem of comma overuse. Slide54:  If you add extra phrases to the main sentence body, signal that they are separate with commas (unless context makes raising the punctuation level desirable). The flip side of the principle of keeping the subject and predicate together is the idea that if additional information or modifying phrases are added to the sentence, the writer should indicate that they are separate from the main sentence body with commas (or, if appropriate, higher-level punctuation). Consider this simple sentence: In each case, the commas act as boundaries, marking the main sentence body off for the reader. Slide55:  Avoid joining independent clauses with a comma (the dreaded comma splice). Conventional punctuation rules require that two or more independent clauses (complete sentences consisting of a subject and predicate) be connected by more than a comma. Unlike punctuation higher up in the hierarchy, commas alone aren’t strong enough to connect complete sentences. Take, for instance, this example we looked at before: Turn comma splices into acceptable compound sentences by replacing the comma with higher-level punctuation or by adding a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) after the comma—i.e. “Amoebas require little to no maintenance, so they make excellent companions for busy professionals.” Slide56:  , Comma , She took such a feverish interest in the Devil Baby that when I was obliged to disillusion her, I found it hard to take away her comfort in the belief that the Powers that Be are on the side of the woman, when her husband resents too many daughters. (Jane Addams, “The Devil Baby at Hull-House”) Addams makes classic use of the comma’s ability to define the boundaries between the main body of a sentence and the extra, modifying phrases that can be added. The main body appears in the middle of the sentence, where both the subject (“I”) and the predicate (“found it hard to take away her comfort in the belief that the Powers that Be are on the side of the woman”) are immediately joined with no punctuation between. But Addams fleshes out the idea with a couple of extra phrases, one at the beginning and one at the end, that modify and add information to this main sentence body. Her use of commas to separate these extra bits from the main idea help the reader to identify, and thus comprehend, the main idea of what would otherwise be a very confusing series of clauses. Slide57:  , Comma , A few weeks ago this feeling got so strong I bought myself a couple of bass hooks and a spinner and returned to the lake where we used to go, for a week’s fishing and to revisit old haunts. (E.B. White, “Once More to the Lake”) This sentence provides a good example of how using commas to distinguish additional information from the main sentence body can be vital for clarity. Consider what would happen to the last phrase if the comma were removed: “. . . the lake where we used to go for a week’s fishing and to revisit old haunts.” Coming right after “where we used to go,” the phrase “for a week’s fishing etc.” is quite confusing. Is White saying they used to go there for a week, etc, or he went, a few weeks ago, for a week, etc.? By adding the comma, White eliminates what could otherwise be a confusing hitch in his prose. Because the “for a week” phrase is separated from “where we used to go” by a comma, it is more obvious that this last phrase refers to White himself, and his recent return to the lake, rather than the purpose of trips made in the distant past. Slide58:  , Comma , My father’s quiet eyes are water-color blue, he wears his small skeptical quiet smile and receives the neighborhood’s life-secrets. (Cynthia Ozick, “A Drugstore in Winter”) Red Alert! In this sentence, Ozick departs from conventional punctuation rules and places a comma between two independent clauses. Certainly Ozick, a professional writer, knows this is a comma splice. We are left to consider, then, why she decided that this particular rhetorical situation made lowering the punctuation level appropriate. Importantly, the essay’s informal tone and genre allow for flexibility, but consider also how the sentence would change if Ozick completely separated the two halves with a period or replaced the comma with a semi-colon. As it is punctuated, the image of her father’s eyes combines with the descriptions and actions in the second part of the sentence to create an picture vivid in its simplicity. How much of this delicacy would be lost with the added separation of a higher level of punctuation? The differences are subtle. But it is precisely the finely nuanced quality of these possibilities that makes them so exciting to thoughtful writers. Slide59:  Zero Slide60:  Zero Life would not be worth living under the tyranny of an invader and Nathan Hale apparently hadn’t paused to wonder whether God might not have other uses for him besides being hung. (Edward Hoagland, “Heaven and Nature”) Here Hoagland omits the comma in what would otherwise be a standard compound sentence (two independent clauses joined by both a comma and a coordinating conjunction). Why would he choose to lower the level of separation by removing the comma that traditionally precedes the coordinating conjunction (“and”)? Consider how the sentence changes when the comma is included. Commas often signal subordination, indicating which points act primarily in service of others. When the comma is present, it places more weight on the second half of the sentence. The general comment about tyranny seems to be acting mostly as a setup for the specific information about Nathan Hale. The “and” alone, however, serves a kind of balancing function, signaling the equal importance of the phrases. Writers can move down the hierarchy to eliminate unwanted emphasis and create a sense of equality. Slide61:  Zero One of them dropped out of line and said something to a loud, fat girl who wore a Peanuts sweatshirt under her fatigue blouse and she started to cry. (Michael Herr, “Illumination Rounds”) Like Hoagland in Example 1, Herr eliminates the comma before the second independent clause (“and she started to cry”) of his sentence. The result is much the same. There is a sense of balance between the two clauses that would otherwise be reduced. The lack of comma also hurries the conclusion along. Rather than lingering over “she started to cry,” the reader passes over it quickly. Perhaps Herr wanted to reduce potential melodrama, for the image disappears into the general atmosphere rendered by the sentence. In addition to eliminating an expected comma, Herr adds an unexpected one. Because “loud” and “fat” are not coordinate adjectives (that is, they represent different classes, or kinds, of qualities), no comma is necessary between them. But Herr includes it, slowing the reader down and adding emphasis to this phrase even as he hurries and de-emphasizes the girl’s crying. The resulting sentence is balanced in an unusual and compelling way. Slide62:  Zero He understands, for example, that he is now forty-six years old and close to becoming a vice-president of the agency and that at this particular age and status he now actually feels the need to go to the kind of barbershop where one makes an appointment and has the same barber each time and the jowls are anointed with tropical oils. (Tom Wolfe, “Putting Daddy On”) According to conventional punctuation rules, Wolfe should have commas between the phrases that make up the two lists in this sentence (the list of what his friend Parker now understands, and the embedded list detailing the barbershop process). As it is, all of these phrases pile up on each other in a kind of breathless chaos. But in the context of this essay, the effect is ideal. Wolfe is describing the situation of people living in what he calls “the Information Crisis.” The frenetic, overloaded feeling of the sentence is a perfect mirror of the condition he is explaining; the absence of separation and emphasis left in the wake of the missing commas reflects the challenge of classifying and prioritizing the deluge of information Wolfe describes. Zero, then, is the perfect punctuation choice for the rhetorical situation. Slide63:  Sources The concept and design of this entire presentation is based on former BSU Writing Center Director Rick Leahy’s Word Works article “Punctuation as a System.” To read the full version of the original article, click here. Grammatical definitions adapted from Martha Kolln’s Rhetorical Grammar. All quoted punctuation examples taken from selections included in The Best American Essays of the Century. Works Cited Kolln, Martha. Rhetorical Grammar. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 2003. Leahy, Rick. “Punctuation as a System.” Word Works 81 (Oct. 1996): 1-4. Oates, Joyce Carol, and Robert Atwan, eds. The Best American Essays of the Century. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

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