Making a Point: The Persnickety Story of English Punctuation

puncts If you use commas and periods, this book is for you. If you use semicolons and dashes; this book is still for you. And even if you use colons, hyphens, parentheses, and the dreaded apostrophes, this book is still for you.

So, I guess it must be for everyone.

The author of Making a Point, David Crystal, is probably today’s foremost popularizer of English language linguistics. He write with verve, humor, and deep scholarship. Unlike most popularizers, he is reliably accurate. Most importantly, he is not an ideologue, as he has a balanced, scientific view rather than a prescriptivist one. To this reader, one of the most interesting aspects of Making a Point is the historical approach that the author has chosen; he shows chronologically how each punctuation mark developed over the past thousand years — not only its usage, but also its names — with plenty of examples from primary sources and also from grammar books. Even more interesting is his thorough treatment of the two conflict goals of punctuation: to indicate grammatical structure and to guide the oral reader. Although he is a Brit, he pays sufficient attention to the American way of doing things, explicitly discussing not only the differences but also the various trends on each side of the pond.

If you think you’re an expert on punctuation, read this book. If you think punctuation is difficult and you’ll never master it, read this book. If you’re designing a menu, read this book.

Categories: Books, Linguistics