Terrouge E-zine Archives
Sweat the Simple Stuff
By: Zian Choy
After more than a year of talking about big genres, it’s past time to talk about little things such as the humble alphabet and its collection of punctuation marks.
Words. Millions of words.
The sentence. Billions of permutations.
(along with a healthy collection of periods)
We all write for someone to read, even if it’s just ourselves. So each letter becomes a precious symbol representing a part of our lives and thoughts. Entire fields of study have sprung up around letters and they’ve introduced new combinations of letters, new words of their own to describe them, such as “typography,” “descenders,” and “sans serif.” Why this change?
Together, characters form the first impression the reader gets. Is the document printed with Times New Roman? Yet another boring school paper. Is the sign set with Helvetica? Yet another street sign. Set with comic sans? A manager with no sense of humor.
We all have a chance to build words out of these glyphs. We might not buy or sell them, as Milo and Tock attempted to do in The Phantom Tollbooth, but the world floods us with new words every day, even if they’re just marketingese. Of course, each of us has a duty to pick and choose words with care so that we say what we mean and leave Humpty Dumpty’s outrageous claims from Through the Looking-Glass for the realm of fiction. The right words can move nations and stir hearts. The wrong words provide fodder for laughter at best or destroy lives at worst.
Sentences make the words come alive by attaching things to events. The forums crashed. The music played. The pages flipped in the cool breeze. Sentences give words a chance to live by doing. A way to show instead of simply telling. But, just as a single person must work with others to accomplish great things, a sentence belongs with other sentences.
So they build paragraphs. Paragraphs let us get away with telling and not showing for a moment. Quick as a wink, we place a topic sentence on top of a mountain of facts and discussion. Although modern society tends to encourage “cutting to the chase,” paragraphs remain the most popular way to substantiate claims. Did you actually have a good summer? Then write a paragraph about things you did. Or, better yet, a collection of paragraphs.
No one can hear periods, commas, semi-colons, or spaces. Rather, they keep us from drowning in a never ending stream of ideas. The comma lets us know to expect a long list of apples, oranges, and peaches. The period lets us know that we have finished a complete thought, even if we can’t quite understand what the professor was writing about. Semi-colons tie together related thoughts; the combination of a colon and comma indicates that two thoughts are inextricably linked. And spaces keep paper companies profitable.
They also present the most formidable foe to chaos. The noted poet, e. e. cummings relied greatly on space to keep his impossible poems standing strong through the ages.
What have you built out of letters, dots, and spaces today?