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National Punctuation Day: Commas combat censorship

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It may not seem like National Punctuation Day has much to do with press rights, but before dismissing it as just a lot of dots and dashes and English-class concerns, think about it for a minute.

First, some background….

Thursday, Sept. 24 is this year’s event, celebrated since 2004 when former newspaperman Jeff Rubin, as his Web site says, started NPD as “a celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotes, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever-mysterious ellipsis.” (Clearly, even as a newspaperman, Rubin isn’t following AP style, but we’ll ignore that for now.)

The NPD Web site contains teaching tips and games (including how to order a 30-minute instructional video package for $299), photos of incorrectly punctuated signs, links to media coverage and more.

This year, Rubin has been promoting a baking contest  — submit photos of a “cookie, cake, pastry, doughnut, or bread baked in the shape of a punctuation mark,” both going into the oven unbaked and coming out.

But what’s the press rights connection? Credibility. Plain and simple. The more staff members of a publication do right — from quoting the top experts to properly spelling names to printing photos that are in focus  — the more professional they seem. Sure, only the most punctuation-trained English comp teachers will catch the missing fourth “dot” when an ellipsis is at the end of a sentence, but start throwing around apostrophes in the wrong places, and readers will notice.

And once they notice, they start looking for other mistakes and doubting that staff members know what they’re doing. Questioning punctuation moves to questioning content. Questioning moves to reviewing…..just in case there are more mistakes. That’s the slippery slope no one wants on the path.

Perhaps one misplaced comma doesn’t instantly lead to censorship, but when credibility and professionalism can help earn respect and preserve open forum status, it’s worth a careful copyedit to be sure those dots and dashes are where they belong.

Might be worth baking up a batch of commas…, but don’t use them before “and” in a series.

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