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Picayune: Punctilious Punctuation

By ERIC SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia

I was pretty proud of persevering with persistent Ps when I described how a pesky pugnacious pelican picked on and pecked my person... until I read a perfect piece of peppered prose by Angus Lind in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, Louisiana (US). He wrote:

A pretty recent not-so-punctual column publicizing National Punctuation Day provoked pent-up passions from plenty of persnickety punctuation purists who promptly penned their pet peeves about and perspectives on periods, apostrophes, semicolons and anything grammatically or linguistically improper that particularly pushed them over the precipice.

It seems that some New Orleans citizens who survived the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina still feel strongly about punk punctuation. No doubt temporary construction notices and hastily-painted street and business signs give them ample grounds for complaint.

"Who would have thought there are people out there who still have enthusiasm for correct punctuation, still maintain a zeal for putting all those funny little marks in the right places?" Angus asked.

"Who would have thought they would have come out of the comma closet they way they did? In the numbers they did?"

(On Sydney talkback radio a few days ago, listeners were asked to nominate things that were "un-Australian." One anonymous wit replied "Placing apostrophes correctly.")

After reading Angus Lind's entertaining column, we discovered that the newspaper was first published in 1837, as the Picayune, the name of a Spanish coin then worth about six cents, which conveniently was also the paper's cover price. It merged with its rival in 1914, and became the Times-Picayune.

William Faulkner and O. Henry once wrote for the paper, which won two Pulitzer prizes in 1997, and two more this year for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina, which (as the world knows) devastated New Orleans in 2005.

Like other residents, Angus Lind often recalls the horrors of Katrina. Two weeks ago he wrote in his column:

As we renovate the upstairs rooms in our house that were damaged by the storm and shuffle furniture around from room to room to Sheetrock and paint, this seemed like the perfect time to get rid of the clutter and stuff accumulated through the years...

While we were evacuated, we realized, as many others did, that we could live with so little and be happy. We vowed that when we returned home, we would de-junk the house, the closets, the cupboards, the attic.


Story first posted November 2006

Copyright 2006

Eric Shackle

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