Punctuation marks are the traffic signals of language: they tell us to slow down, notice this, take a detour, and stop.
Where would we be without punctuation? If we didn’t have any, the sentence
“Charles the First walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off”
would leave you wondering. Instead the sentence should read:
Charles the First walked and talked half an hour. After, his head was cut off”.
The word punctuation stems from Medieval Latin punctuatio ‘marking with points’ which refers to the system of inserting pauses, especially in the psalms of the Bible, so that they could be read out clearly.
Punctuation developed dramatically when large numbers of copies of the Bible started to be produced. In the 7th-8th centuries Irish and Anglo-Saxon scribes added more marks to make texts more understandable.
Comma comes for the Greek komma, meaning literally ‘piece which is cut off’ referring to the clause that is isolated by use of the comma.
The exclamation mark, which we use to express surprise or a call for attention, was once known as a shriek mark or a note of admiration!
The dot at the end of the sentence, which we call a full stop, is known in USA as a period.
Brackets, (which we use to separate a clause) comes from the Latin braca meaning ‘breeches’. I suppose () look like a pair of legs.
Here are some of the well-known sentences that can be read differently with punctuation:
“A woman without her man, is nothing.” OR
“A woman. Without her, man is nothing.”
“Let’s eat, Grandpa!” OR “Let’s eat Grandpa!”
And that old favourite “The panda eats shoot and leaves” OR
“The panda eats, shoots, and leaves.”