The End of Good Writing

Recently, I sent out a a tweet about an article in the New Republic that pronounced a seismic shift in punctuation rules. These had seemed almost immutable, like the laws of gravity or that rule about wearing light colors after Labor Day. I was shocked and even distraught to discover that periods at the end of sentences are considered loud and aggressive. In their places, we are supposed to be using nice, tranquil exclamation points. (I mean “!”) Imagine, I always thought periods were plain vanilla, passive aggressive at best, and they turn out to be pure toadstool and arsenic sauce. If you don’t believe me, you can see it here. The period is further described in this piece as “a sign of irrational anger“!

I remember when using exclamation points was a sign of amatuerish writing. And people who used them a lot seemed way too eager! We used to be annoyed by the unfettered use of exclamation points! I had to purge a lot of them out of one of my early fiction pieces when I redeveloped it but then the piece was partly meant as parody and I was trying to make it a little more serious. Parody begs for exclamation points, doesn’t it? (!)

I researched reactions to this assault on the poor period via an unscientific sample of nonrandom coworkers. Most jeered and one remarked, “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard, ever.” The last remark prompted me to point out that I read it in two separate places and it was totally not my idea. It briefly became a “thing” with the group, a running joke in which we kept reminding each other to be sparing with punctuation. One thing I like about this group is that they don’t do their material to death, so I can expect they’ll be onto the next joke in a day or so. I also like that they backed me up (even though they made fun of me in the process) in my belief that periods are necessary to keep chaos from descending on our prose. And what we write is confusing enough without not being able to tell where our sentences start and end. And please don’t turn me in to the composition police for starting so many sentences starting with “and.”

In addition to the war on punctuation, there appears to be a war on cursive writing. This is yet another of the habits ground into the heads of folks of a certain age that is probably now losing its usefulness to texting and email (the likely culprits in the impending demise of the period). Probably because I always had horrible penmanship and was generally called out about it, I’m not especially nostalgic on this score. I have memories of one of my first college professors watching us write answers to an essay exam in Russian class in proper Cyrillic script and taking the opportunity to ask aloud, “Is your handwriting this bad in English too?”

My sources on the demise of cursive initially consisted of long, passionate letters to the editor (probably handwritten in cursive). I did some research after the fact on the web, weary of polling my coworkers and less than eager to draw their attention to my handwriting. Also, I’ve had enough of people remarking, “How quaint! You know shorthand” when in fact I do not. Most of the posts on this subject are titled “Should Schools Teach Cursive?” Since the question comes out of the omission of cursive by the so-called “Common Core” standards in education, this question has political overtones, as in the evil Democrats who sponsor this government overreach into the school are just interested in depriving your children of important intellectual tools that would otherwise allow them to fully participate in our society. So periods are aggressive and cursive is the linchpin of modern civilization! And my eighth grade English teacher was right? And so was my Russian professor? And my former boss’ obsession with semicolons…no…I’m still right on that one…right guys?!

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One thought on “The End of Good Writing

  1. I have now been privileged to observe the wages of the war on cursive. Yesterday, my husband took me to an ice-cream stand staffed by an older (white-haired) lady who wrote our order down on a slip of paper and passed it to a young colleague (probably high school aged) for fulfillment. The younger person returned from the freezer with the following announcement: “I can’t read your handwriting. It looks like a bunch of meaningless squiggles to me.” The older woman replied, “It’s just cursive,” to which the teen replied, “And I can’t read cursive. The other guy back here can’t read it either and he’s the smart one.” *sigh* What if that slip of paper was a live-saving prescription or a death-bed order from the submarine commander to load the missiles? I got my cone and my husband got his shake (somehow) but who knows next time?

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