Monday, March 27, 2017

Monday Meanderings

Some of you may already know that I'm a self-professed Comma Queen, and I love other forms of punctuation, too ... probably too much.  I love the flourish of a dash, an ellipsis, or stringing together sentences with semi-colons and colons.

To me, punctuation does more than simply inform the grammatical composition of the sentence; it alters the rhythm and flow.  As a musician, I feel these patterns even if I don't express them consciously.  It's in editing that I might go back and look logically at whether I want the effect in this spot or that, whether this sentence works better as a long, breathless string or short beats.

So think of a sentence, ended with a period, as a phrase in music.  The insertion of a dash is a sharp staccato note followed by a rest - an abrupt cessation of sound.  For a harp player, this is a significant distinction because the harp rarely falls completely silent:  unless muted, notes continue to ring.  To create a quick "burst" of silence requires laying your hands on the strings to stop them.

An ellipsis, on the other hand, is a rest without muted strings or the dot in a tied note:  a small marker that indicates to hold out the end of the thought, to suspend it before continuing to the conclusion.

Semi-colons almost work in reverse; they take two separate phrases and unify them.  In this case, it's compression rather than extension.  Musically, for the harp, I think of fingering.  Part of what makes a phrase unified on the harp is that the hand remains engaged; at any one time, there is at least one finger on the strings.  Coming off at the end of the phrase creates a break to the ear.  But there are times when it's necessary or appropriate to come off mid-phrase, and that ... is your semi-colon.

(It is not lost on me that I am using the punctuation I am rambling about sprinkled throughout the above.)

Another incidental music connection:  if you're familiar with notations for vocal music (and wind instruments as well, I'm told), there is a symbol that indicates where one can take a breath.  And ... what a coincidence ...

It looks like a comma.

Of course, like any other writing tool, phrase, etc, overuse reduces the impact.  I've become more sensitive to my (over)use of these punctuation marks, and I'm starting to take a hard look at when they are truly necessary as I edit.  To all those who have waded through my past pauses, either as reader or editor, I tend my sincere apologies.

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