Over on Stan Carey’s blog there’s talk of conducting a punctuation experiment sometime. It’s an idea that I tried out on something he wrote, after which we agreed that we should try it on a more organised scale, with more people involved.
Now, there’s only one reason for me not to have a turn at conducting such an experiment — namely that I just don’t have the readership to make it worthwhile. I would be lucky to get one response.
But it occurs to me now that this doesn’t feel like a problem if we call my version a rehearsal. Let Stan conduct the experiment proper, but in the meantime a rehearsal may be a good way to better determine the number, nature and length of quotations that should be used. (In other words, I would like a turn . . . and a little post-hoc justification never hurt anyone.)
[UPDATE: The experiment has now ended, and the results published here, although that needn't stop you from submitting your answers anyway if you want to.]
So if you would like to take part in this rehearsal, here are your instructions:
- Below are seven quotations, each taken from a different book on my shelf. From each quotation I have removed most of the punctuation (as well as sentence-initial capitalisation).
- Your task is to put all that stuff back in. Copy the quotations below, insert whatever commas / sentence endings / hyphens / dashes / colons / etc you feel are most suitable, and paste the result in the comments when you’re satisfied.
- You don’t have to repunctuate all of the quotations; you can just do the one or two that most strike your fancy. Also, if you recognise any of them (perhaps you’ve read the same book), then perhaps skip that one and just do the rest.
- Feel free to add commentary if you so wish (e.g. explaining which decisions were most difficult and why you made them). Quotations are numbered for your convenience, both for that, and so that you can label your answers.
- Have fun.
I really hope I don’t need to say this, but there is no right or wrong answer. In due course I will share the original passages, but those are not “solutions”. Appreciating the many different ways to punctuate the same text — each every bit as valid as the next — is far more interesting than trying to “guess” what the original author wrote.
And finally, here are the passages I have selected:
(1) Adults got involved only to the extent that some teachers carefully picked up any escapist rubbish the child was currently reading and dropped it in the bin there are still even now some of those around I believe a special circle of Hell is reserved for them of course fantasy is escapist most stories are so what teachers are not meant to be jailers.
(2) An hour later two men stood waiting at the river’s edge red headed brothers with rifles across their backs large men identical in every way standing close by each other not speaking each with huge chest and arms sleeves rolled up like two lumberjacks in a rustic play but these were not lumberjacks the pallor of their faces the close trim of their beards belied any suggestion of work and they wore fine black boots.
(3) And hold it there hold it there as the element scorches Dante’s nine rings right into your palm allowing you to grasp Hell in your hand forever let the heat engrave the skin the muscles the tendons let it smolder down to the bone wait for the burn to embed itself so far into you that you don’t know if you’ll ever be able to let go of that coil it won’t be long until the stench of your own burning flesh wafts up grabbing your nose hairs and refusing to let go and you smell your body burn.
(4) As instruction manuals they leave much to be desired the effective communication of basic game mechanics requires not just the ability to think logically and write simply which is obvious and can be perfected by practice but more importantly that of anticipating on the part of the learner elementary queries and misunderstandings about things that experts take for granted.
(5) Reading the Magna Carta the first time can be disappointing it is not a declaration of the rights of man it is rather a peace treaty between John and his barons based upon economics the common man had very little to do with it on second reading it becomes more interesting indeed a fascinating peek into the priorities of the barony of the period it also gives hints about some of John’s shortcomings as a king.
(6) The question of contact is an interesting one because it often happens that one of the audience comes forward to hold the hand of the singer at some high point in the song and will even emphasise either the rhythm of the song or an important sentiment by grasping the hand more firmly and moving it up and down one cannot help feeling on such occasions that this one person speaks for the whole audience and is conveying to the singer the sense of participation in the song that they all feel.
(7) Walking one afternoon through the grounds of St Edna’s in Rathfarnam I saw a small bridge with some people around it I asked a local who they were and was told they were heroin addicts who often met there to deal and get a fix the thought went through me like ice an absolute image of modern Ireland heroin addicts in Patrick Pearse’s school.
(Author credits: Terry Pratchett, Gil Adamson, Andrew Davidson, David Parlett, Irene Radford, Tomás Ó Canainn, Seán Dunne.)