Stop right there! It’s the punctuation police – and you’re nicked.

imagePunctuation is powerful stuff.  True, nobody ever died from a misplaced exclamation mark, but let’s not risk it.  I’m a constant corrector and it drives those non grammar, spelling and punctuation Zealots around me crazy – particularly my husband.  Luckily most of my friends and colleagues are of like mind and nothing lights our collective touchpaper like a greengrocers’ apostrophe or a fiery debate about the Oxford comma. In fact, several of my work colleagues and I once demanded to be moved from a restaurant table right next to a sign announcing the toilet’s.  It wasn’t the toilets themselves that were offensive, only the sign  – a sign that someone had gone to the trouble to paint on the wall, error and all.  Only last week I tweeted Good Morning Britain to point out a faux pas in a news banner that appeared on my TV screen as I prepared for another day of vigorous punctuating and grammar correcting in the day job.  (I didn’t get a reply but I felt slightly superior all day)  It’s a legal judgment in case you’re interested – see pic.  And one thing I do know about is a missing E.

But how much does such pedantry still matter in the modern world?  Who really cares if you can’t spell or your grammar is sloppy?  Is knowing that they’re going there in their car important?  (Carrie Bradshaw was gleeful in Sex and the City on discovering that her ex’s new wife didn’t know the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’.)   Wearing my legal proofreader hat, perfect grammar and punctuation is vital.  As a writer, I maintain that it’s all about presentation and polish and attention to detail.   What about everyday life? I really would have to think twice about using a company whose promotional material offered Removal Quote’s or Decorating Service’s: if you’ve put that little thought into the detail of your advert, what is your end product going to be like?   I’m sure that Daves Removal Service’s (No Job To Small) do a sterling job and they are, after all, in the business of hefting about boxes and not proofreading.  But those errors would grate.

Similarly a journalist friend recently confessed that she disregards any reviews of hotels or restaurants containing dreadful spelling and no punctuation.  I’m just the same: if you, the reviewer don’t care about the quality of your writing then surely our views and tastes cannot possibly be similar?  And I’m not talking about dyslexia here or those for whom English is a second language,  just people who don’t care. How can you not care?

Much as I long to prowl the streets with a large permanent marker pen to correct all those signs and A frames I do try very hard to fight such snobbery.   I know lovely people who don’t think being able to use a semi-colon correctly is at all important and even schools don’t place as much emphasis as they used to on getting grammar and spelling right.  What hope is there for future generations?  Or will the need for perfect punctuation soon be as obsolete as the video player?

So as an experiment I tried to relax my punctuation and grammar a little in texts and instant messages. It was tough but guess what? The world kept turning.  I carried on breathing in and out. Nothing major happened.  Nobody even mentioned it. I even bit my lip – hard – when someone said a friend of theirs ‘should of’ done something.  That took some effort.  But stop off at the stall near work selling ‘Tea’s and Coffee’s’? I’m still working on that.  Continue reading


Is There A Doctor On Board?

These are the words we all dread hearing boomed airplane530over a plane tannoy.  It happened to me only last week on a charter flight.  Yes, I wanted to be that person striding confidently to the front like a conquering heroine, reassuring everyone that it was all going to be okay and saving a few lives in the process.  Being able to punctuate well and write 400 words on whether you can be a feminist and still wear mascara is all well and good (the answer is yes, by the way) but we are unlikely to ever hear “Is there a writer on board?  If so, please come immediately to the front of the cabin”.  Quick, someone is in danger of death from an extraneous semicolon.  As far as I know, painful as it is, a misplaced apostrophe never killed anyone.

I sometimes wish I’d trained in something more worthy– and better paid — like pioneering heart surgery. Proofreading and delivering a perfect verbatim transcript in my day job, although we often receive praise and heartfelt thanks, will never shape a young life nor will it make a grown man cry with gratitude and name their child after me, as happens to doctors or midwives.  (I do actually have a child named after me in West Africa in recognition for charity work, but that’s nothing to do with my writing).  But writing chose me, not the other way round.  It is my calling and like many writers, I write because I have to.

It doesn’t help that my cousin is a very highly regarded orthopaedic surgeon.  I’ve seen him mentioned in the press by grateful patients: to them, he is a god who helped them walk again.

So why didn’t I go for a career in medicine?  Well, firstly, I’m squeamish and have emetophobia, which also ruled out a fledgling career as an air hostess. Secondly, I wanted to join the Army before I was told, aged 22, that I could only sign up as a secretary, not the Intelligence Officer I was hoping to be. My next choice of career was journalism. I skirted around the medical profession as a St John Ambulance cadet for years, a medical secretary and then a transcriber on The Shipman Inquiry.  I even dated a doctor once.  I never really got my hands dirty though unless you count three seasons as a holiday rep mopping up countless accidents and fights, usually alcohol related, which I think is what triggered the emetophobia …

So until the day when my writing can dramatically save a life, I’ll be plodding on unnoticed and unglorified.  But on the flip side it’s not likely to kill anyone either …