Brief History of Punctuation Help
Brief History of Punctuation
After reading the preceding sentence, are you convinced that punctuation and spacing are absolute necessities? In fact, it has taken many, many years to reach this conclusion. Indeed, before the ninth century A.D., very early writing did not even require space between words. Some credit the Romans with using dots between words, while medieval scribes used pictures of birds, flowers, and daggers or other marks to indicate a pause. Since rhetoric, the study of oratory or public speaking, was an important course of study, early punctuation was not based on sentence structure, but rather on how a manuscript could be made readable.
The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1436 was the stimulus for a new system of punctuation. To reach larger and larger audiences, books needed to be readable. Although earlier medieval writers used marks to show where a reader might pause, their punctuation was different from today's punctuation. One slash mark indicated a short pause and three indicated a long pause. Aldus Manutius (1449–1515), the Renaissance printer, used a period to indicate a full stop at the end of a sentence and a diagonal slash to represent a pause. For another two hundred years, printers experimented with various symbols, but it was not until the late 1600s and early 1700s that punctuation became consistent. Dr. Ben Jonson, a dramatist, authored English Grammar in 1617 (published in 1640 after his death), in which punctuation was used syntactically, or according to sentence structure. Although the way Dr. Jonson explained the need for punctuation might not be very clear today, it is instructive:
For, whereas our breath is by nature so short, that we cannot continue without a stay to speake long together; it was thought necessarie, as well as for the speakers ease, as for the plainer deliverance of things spoken, to invent this meanes, whereby men pausing a pretty while, the whole speech might never the worse be understood.
Translation: Punctuation makes a sentence easier to understand.
That brings us to a particular, present-day problem. Is it acceptable to send an e-mail without proper punctuation and capitalization? It all depends upon whether you care what the recipient thinks about you as he or she reads your message. Lack of punctuation and capitalization may speak to some recipients as a lack of education, intelligence, and professionalism. You need to decide if this matters to you. Certainly, any business e-mail you send should have the same high standards you maintain in anything else you might write and sign. So let's start where the elders started—with end marks.
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