Pull out those red pens and celebrate National Punctuation Day

by Diane Brown, IU Communications Specialist:

Commas save lives

Sign in IU School of Liberal Arts dean’s office.

This week marks the 11th anniversary of the day set aside as “a celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever-mysterious ellipsis.”

Each Sept. 24 is National Punctuation Day, and this year the annual writing contest established by the day’s founder has ties to Indiana. And IUPUI has the perfect place to celebrate.

“We’re not doing an essay this year,” said Jeff Rubin, aka Punctuation Man. “We’re doing an homage to David Letterman, and we are going to have people do a Top 10 list. The question is: What are the top 10 ways proper punctuation has affected your life?”

The Exclamation Point!The Letterman tribute is in recognition of the retirement of the Indiana native Rubin considers “one of America’s greatest comedians and talk-show hosts.”

Rubin is accepting Top 10 lists through Oct. 31 at Jeff@NationalPunctuationDay.com for any of you who want to get in on the chance to win some “punctuation goodies.”

The prizes for the best list will come from a selection of T-shirts, latte mugs, greeting cards and punctuation posters bearing unique designs with slogans such as “a semicolon is not a surgical procedure” and “an ellipsis is not when the moon moves in front of the sun.”

The overworked ellipsis is Jennifer Price Mahoney’s pet punctuation peeve. Mahoney is an associate director of IUPUI’s University Writing Center, part of the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI.

“Ellipses indicate that something has been left out, and as a reader, I want to know what are you not telling me,” Mahoney said.

The center, with locations on the fourth floor of Cavanaugh Hall and in University Library, has about 4,500 visits each fall and another 3,800 each spring, according to Mahoney.

Jennifer Price Mahoney

Jennifer Price Mahoney

Writing Center staff are available to assist IUPUI students who need help tweaking a draft as well as those with a writing assignment who don’t have a draft and have no idea where to start, Mahoney said.

When it comes to using those commas and semicolons, good punctuation is transparent, Mahoney said. Good punctuation makes the meaning clearer, but you don’t notice it when it is properly applied, she said.

If Rubin’s observations are reflective of national trends, students aren’t alone in their need for help with punctuation.

“Have you read a newspaper lately?” Rubin said when I asked him about the importance for including a National Punctuation Day among the official holidays featured in Chase’s Calendar of Events.

Rubin used to sit at his kitchen table, red marker in hand, and mark up typos, misspellings and improper punctuation in newspapers and other publications.

When he finished with the reading material at hand, “It looked like I had popped a vein and bled all over it,” Rubin said.

It was a delightful surprise when I told him I worked for Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and he countered with “Oh, IUPUI.”

The Punctuation Spire at IUPUI

Punctuation Spire, artist William Crutchfield

His familiarity with the campus stems from visits to Indianapolis years ago as a member of the statistics crew for events held by the organization now known as USA Track and Field.

Rubin sent me an advance announcement of the Letterman contest, and I sent him a picture of the Punctuation Spire, the towering sculpture in the atrium of the IUPUI Campus Center.

Punctuation Spire, by Herron School of Art and Design grad and former faculty member William Crutchfield, soars 28 feet high and weighs 3,000 pounds. The typewriter-inspired art features about a dozen basic symbols, including an apostrophe and a period, sandwiched between a question mark base and an exclamation point at the top.

Gifted to Herron, located on the IUPUI campus, in 2005 and installed in the Campus Center in 2010, the steel, aluminum and wood ode to punctuation is a fitting place to celebrate National Punctuation Day, if anyone chooses.

(For more about National Punctuation Day, see the video.)

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