[Originally published November 19, 2012.]
Everybody thinks punctuation marks are useful. They keep them in jars. They use them to feed aging relatives. They think they will stop that bear from shooting them. They won’t. Punctuation marks actually have extremely limited uses. ¿Seriously… You’re, doing- it- wrong»
Full stop. Like the full Monty, or a full English breakfast, this can be a little overwhelming in the wrong context. If planted eight to twelve feet underground, it can be acceptable. Avoid before 7 pm GMT, except in cases where an urgent breakup is required.
Far preferable is its American counterpoint, the period. It denotes the passing of time or the ordering of chemical elements and is modeled on a small, dark creature crawling into a hole out of boredom. Useful for Jurassic or menstrual themes.
Comma. An extremely long pause pertaining to deep sleep, sometimes fatal. Archaic. Avoid. Use instead the archaic francophone virgule, which reminds the reader of little twigs, the Aeneid, and Madonna songs.
Hyphen. An incredibly popular mark, particularly amongst hipsters and domesticated fowl. This is the sexiest punctuation mark. Use generously, especially if you might self-define as ‘sinewy,’ ‘urbane’ or ‘saturnine.’
Hashtag. Denotes an elaborate game played when one of the participants is on the hunt for some greasy-spoon style breakfast potatoes. Also useful in circumstances when some particularly fine marijuana is brought back from the field of battle and needs to be identified.
Dash. To mark a particularly short and swift sentence; particularly one involving falcons, Usain Bolt, or clinical insanity. Can also be used as a “purifying mark” to be used after insults, smear campaigns, and those subtweets that are really getting far too obvious, “Gordon.”
Ampersand. Great for loud parties on the beach. Use often, especially if you are under 47 and intend to kick that crippling cocaine habit. Does not grant wishes. Looks best in lipstick and serif fonts.
Question mark. Do not, under any circumstances, question Mark. Mark doesn’t know anything.
Apostrophe. A broken, poetic mark that bears the scars of the time it allegedly spent in Vietnam. Be careful with it. Useful, however, in unsent letters and medical prescriptions.
Ellipsis. Defective, oval punctuation mark, sometimes mistakenly tripled by idiots. Usually used to mark out oral sex scenes involving psychiatrists. Also, occasionally, in epic space operas. Do not get this as a tattoo.
Exclamation point. Often references holiday locations in Maine, particularly ones where past lovers annoyingly keep turning up in their Mercedes and digging for bivalve mollusks with their new strangely buff girlfriends. Encourages silence. Use sparingly. Caveat: If you start a new paragraph afterwards, Keanu Reeves may appear.
Colon. May contain limbs, bacteria, post-Imperialist explorers. Often misused in Doric temples and by Irish writers. Implement at regular intervals.
Semi-colon. Often mistaken as an indication that less perfume is required (i.e. by club-frequenting horny fourteen year-olds in their feeble attempts to simulate possession of David Beckham’s ‘package’), this is actually a very masculine mark, due to its origins in the business of truck driving, erections, and firearms. Can, however, also indicate the result of a traumatic gastric process. Avoid confusion by never, ever using.
Brackets. Useful for holding up IKEA shelves, clauses, prisoners, and lava lamps in your sex dungeon. “Cool” Americans call these square, and prefer the more regulated parentheses. Even if your dad does tend to talk a lot about the formulation of recursive subset equality, and how once, at this party, he almost managed to pull his auburn-chignoned professor behind the potted palm.
Quotation mark. I told you he doesn’t know anything. No photos! No photos!