Aubrey Gonzalez's entry was singled out from hundreds of student entries from dozens of schools by the Punctuation Man, who “carefully scrutinized all paragraphs for correct punctuation, spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and storytelling.” The Punctuation Man, of course, is Jeff Rubin, who also sponsors Punctuation Day every year on Sept. 24.
As a student, I am often told by my English instructors (often—but not too often; I do get good grades in English [but not always, as I am merely human]) that my writing has some . . . “weaknesses” in punctuation: it’s rife with commas, inundated with brackets, and is distinctly lacking in exclamation points. National Punctuation Day is an excellent excuse to correct my oft-paralyzing literary Achilles heel—punctuation—and appreciate the scope and subtleties of the powers of our brilliant ally, the English language! After all, what were such marvelous tools as punctuation marks crafted for, if not our use?
The paragraph was written by Aubrey Gonzalez of Harvest, Ala., near Huntsville. With her words and her abundant punctuation the home-schooled 11th-grader won the “Best Student Entry” in the 2011 National Punctuation Day Paragraph Contest.
Her entry was singled out from hundreds of student entries from dozens of schools by the Punctuation Man, who “carefully scrutinized all paragraphs for correct punctuation, spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and storytelling.” The Punctuation Man, of course, is Jeff Rubin, who also sponsors Punctuation Day every year on Sept. 24.
The holiday, which Rubin’s Punctuation Day website proudly proclaims is featured in Chase’s Calendar of Events, is “a celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotes and other proper uses of periods, semicolons and the ever-mysterious ellipsis.”
Results for the contest were posted on Rubin’s website. They included 10 adult winners whose prose and punctuation stood out from 220 entries sent in by experienced writers and other punctuation huggers who wrote three-sentence paragraphs that were littered with punctuation marks.
“If punctuation marks wore clothes, the comma would dress in brown—not rich, chocolate, winter-boots brown but faded, school-uniform khaki—and the ellipsis (remember those from Editing 101?) would wear a purple dress with oversized shades and sit alone sipping a martini,” said the founder of National Punctuation Day.
The observation, which seems to put words about punctuation into Rubin’s mouth, but later calls the Punctuation Day founder “she,” was written by Demorah Hayes of Montgomery, Ala., who went on to address the attire of question marks and colons.
“The question mark is like the lady who changes [her dress] as the minutes tick by, with her husband yelling ‘late!’ as he slams the door.” She was more certain about the colon’s dress: monochromatic; balanced on top and bottom; and modest in size, color, and fit, as if to say, “look not at me but at what comes after me.”
So we can see that this wasn’t just a simple grammar contest. Creativity was shown by such other winners as Renee Hirshfield of St. Louis, Mo.; Eva McGough of Seattle, Wash.; Jeanne M. Perdue of Houston, Texas; Bert Randall of Clarksburg, Md.; Kathleen Summers of Arlington, Va.; and Allen Young of Orange, Mass.
Their paragraphs contained interesting and well-constructed sentences, albeit ones that sometimes were a little odd-sounding to the eyes’ inner ear.
Consider the humorous (yet almost threatening) words of Sean Bradley of Dubuque, Iowa.
He said (to me): “Hey, Punk! You waitin’ for me to come over there and give you a lesson in good [expletive deleted] grammar?” I paused; my heart raced rat-a-tat-tat, but my voice — it just couldn’t find itself. Then, suddenly ...
Some of the writers were introspective. Sue Dillon, also of Dubuque, was good-naturedly self-absorbed.
The editor’s challenge — use 13 punctuation marks in a short, three-sentence paragraph — was one that intrigued this copy editor, and I asked myself: Was I up to the challenge? The fabulous grand prize (“punctuation goodies”) is a grammar geek’s dream come true; I’m sure to win...yeah, that’s the spirit!
Of course, a few of the entrants made no mention of the contest. The paragraph of children’s book writer Ann Heinrichs of Chicago, Ill., instead told a story.
“Clearly, the honeymoon was over: first, the tantrum over hairs in the sink; next, the brouhaha about the napkin rings; and now, the paroxysm aimed at Tippy. Jenny’s mind raced over her options: Should she leave him . . . or should she kill him?”
Proper punctuation, it appears, can create some serious dilemmas.
Contact Gary Brown at email@example.com.