Sometime toward the end of August last year, I wrote a short piece on punctuation in WEbook.com. It was written in the spur of the moment. To this day, the response still gets to me – in a good way. The Punctuation Parable remains my favourite piece of writing because it involved very little thought and preparation. I just opened a ‘page’ and wrote.
I represent it here for those of you who haven’t read it. For those who have, give it another go. You know you want to.
THE PUNCTUATION PARABLE
Once upon a time, in the land of Grammatology, there lived a semi-colon whose name was Simon. Simon’s parents Mr and Mrs Collins brought up their only child in the only way they knew how: they spoiled him dreadfully. They bought him the best of toys and games, and made sure he was always fitted out in the latest fashions. He wanted for nothing. Well, except for one thing: friends.
You see, it wasn’t that Simon didn’t know other punctuation marks. He did. It’s just that he felt left out. He was always the last one to be picked when there was a football game. Inevitably he would be an unused substitute. The full stops and commas got a full game, but poor old Simon was left on the bench, feeling unwanted.
One day Simon the semi-colon had enough. He went up to his football coach and demanded to know what was wrong with him. The coach, who was called Phil Steppe, muttered to himself, scraping the ground with his foot, not looking Simon in the eye.
“Sorry, coach?” Simon asked.
“It’s like this, young punctuation mark,” Phil replied. “We just don’t know what to do with you.”
“I don’t understand.”
The coach sat Simon down and began to explain.
“With the other marks, it’s simple enough. The full stops know their place. They are at the hard end of the sentence of life. The buck stops with them. This far, no further.”
“What about the commas?”
“They give the full stops a break, allowing them to take a deep breath before they finish their job.”
“I see,” said Simon. “And what do the question marks do?”
“You’ve answered that one yourself, Simon.”
“Yes, you have.”
“Oh.” Simon paused for a moment before asking, “What is my purpose then?”
The coach sighed. “You’ll have to find that one out for yourself. I can’t help you. Why don’t you search for the Valley of Lost Punctuation?”
Simon perked up. “Where do I find that?”
The coach pointed to place far, far away. “Yonder,” he said cryptically.
And so Simon set off on a voyage of discovery which was to last many a long year. He had adventures with the Prince of Exclamation, His Highness Fred !!! in the Place Of Improperly Used Apostrophes. Together they battled the Dark Lords of The Its’, and were lucky to make it out alive.
Simon thought of home often but he was determined to find his purpose in life. The idea of spending the rest of his grammatical existence cooling his heels on a splintered bench was too horrific to contemplate. Simon soldiered on.
Having managed to fight off the temptations offered to him by the Sirens of Hyphenation, Simon arrived at the Valley. He asked a guard, a big brooding parenthesis of a mark, where he would find the knowledge he seeked.
The guard pointed to a small yellow tent. “Yonder,” he said cryptically, though not as cryptically as Simon’s former football coach.
Simon crept inside the tent and came face to face with the legendary Great Lord of All Punctuation. Simon bowed.
“What is your request?” the Lord (whose name in his previous incarnation was Koh Lonn) asked.
“I ask, O Great Lord, that you show me my purpose in life.”
“Sit down, child, and hear my words of wisdom.” Simon sat down.
“There are times in the Grand Clause of Life when one must stop. There are other times when one must take a quick rest before carrying on. But there are also times when neither acts will suffice. It is your duty to seek out those times and act accordingly. Do you understand?”
Simon lowered his head. “I do not, O Great Lord.”
“Ah, but you will,” his teacher said. “Away with you. Find your purpose. I wish you good fortune.”
Simon was despondent. He had failed in his mission, and there was nothing else he could do except return home. He took the short route back to his village and was at the football pitch in less than four days. Say what you like about taxi drivers, but when they’re good, they’re very good.
Coach Steppe was delighted to see Simon. “I have a problem and you just might be able to help me,” he said to the stunned semi-colon.
“What do you want me to do, Coach?”
“There’s no budging with the full stops and commas. One stops, the other breaks. I need a middleman. Are you up to the job?”
Suddenly Simon knew what he had to do.
“Coach,” he said, “here’s my plan. The full stops are too harsh and the commas are too easy-going, easily led and sometimes misplaced. Let me sort them out. I’ll be the buffer between the two.”
Simon giggled. “I see you found an exclamation mark.”
Coach Steppe winked. “I keep one of them up my sleeve for moments such as these. Now go play ball, young semi-colon.”
And so Simon Collins, semi-colon extraordinaire, saved the day. He sought out those long-winded sentences that were peppered with commas and took their burden upon himself. He became a legend in the land of Grammatology; his name praised in the Vestules of Verbosity; his children blessed with the Wisdom of Words.
And every night, after work, his wife Sally, the High Siren of Hyphenation (he couldn’t quite resist her temptations) made him a nice cup of tea.