Friday, November 25, 2011

The Percontation Point

There have always been grammar fanatics who rant and rave about poor punctuation. A popular book out here a few years ago called Eats, Shoots and Leaves (The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation) seemed to reignite the debate. I didn't buy the book as I suspected it was only really preaching to the converted - people who wanted to be reassured that that they were already right. I might be wrong but that was the impression I got.

I try to get my punctuation right but only because I like to get it right (it's a nerdy challenge mostly) and I also think - certainly in business - presentation is just as important as content. Your message is wasted if your intended audience thinks "I'm not reading this crap - the guy can't even spell/punctuate correctly." This also applies to emails - I don't really like receiving slovenly written emails and I flinch if I reread one of my own and spot a mistake in it. I worry my intended readers will switch off as soon as they see the error. I may be out of touch on this. Many people say it is an informal medium and presentation is unimportant.

The view today in education it seems is that only content is important and poor spelling or punctuation can be ignored if the message is good. I don't buy this because when I was at school, our work, however good the content was, could be downgraded to being utterly worthless due to grammatical or spelling errors. You really did learn by your mistakes.

Anyway, this isn't really my point. All the above was just preamble. What I was wondering today when I read something was, should a rhetorical question have a question mark?**

"This car stinks doesn't it." or "This car stinks doesn't it?"

"You don't say." or "You don't say?"

"How much longer are we going to have to wait in this bloody queue." or "How much longer are we going to have to wait in this bloody queue?"

Not the best examples I grant you but anyway, a little brief research and I find this rhetorical question mark question has already been asked - 430 years ago to be precise.

In the 1580s* Henry Denham proposed the percontation point. A rhetorical question should be suffixed with a reversed question mark. The idea soon fell out of favour. I really rather like it and wish it could return.





 * 1580s somehow looks better as 1580's but there's no reason for the apostrophe.

** Personally speaking, in the absence of the return of the percontation point, I think rhetorical questions should be left without a question mark. 

*** A prize (yet to be decided) to the person who can find a spelling/punctuation error in the above blogpost.

9 comments:

nursemyra said...

Oooh I love the percontation point! Didn't spot your error but I'll be back later when I have more time

King of Scurf said...

nursemyra: I'm not saying I deliberately planted a mistake. I'm just assuming there will be one in there somewhere.

Terra Shield said...

You could always start using it again... and spread the word around to fellow bloggers and friends.

Nota Bene said...

Yep I too love the percontation point - don't you (?)

sabrina said...

Dammit i can't find the error! :(

I totally get what you're saying. Just the other day my pal and i were discussing the sorry, appalling state of the english language in our country. You have no idea just how bad it is. In fact i bet you'd have an aneurysm if you came here and spoke to our youth who now tend to speak in internet english...absolutely disgusting!!! I don't think the word 'grammar' even exists in their vocab. So sad

King of Scurf said...

Terra: Nice idea but I don't think it exists in modern character sets dammit.

NB: Maybe you've hit upon the new notation(?)

Saby: When I've made my millions (dream on eh) I've occasionally wondered about travelling the world teaching English as a foreign language.

Anonymous said...

"The view today in education it seems is that only content is
important and poor spelling or punctuation can be ignored
if the message is good. I don't buy this because when I was
at school, our work, however good the content was..."
In the bove paragraph, I spotted two mistakes, but I could be wrong.
In that fist line, "The view in education it seems is..." a comma between education and it, and seems and is looks like it's missing but, again, I could be wrong.
The second thing that sounded a tad off is in "...at school, our work, however...". Did you perhaps mean "at school, or work..." or "at school our work, however..."?
Nice blog though, it was interesting learning about the percontation mark, thank you.
Have a good day!

Beth K said...

No one bothered to find the error?

1st paragraph:
...reassured that that they...

King of Scurf said...

Wow Beth K I'm impressed. I never even noticed that mistake. I wish I could award you a prize.