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Punctuation, An Art. Part 2

3. The period is used before a decimal number written in figures, even if no whole number precedes. Conversely, if only whole numbers are to be given, the period is not needed after them unless the figure closes the sentence.

4. There is no good reason for placing the period of a decimal number above the line. Some printers "reverse," thus putting the period high up, as Caxton used to do to decorate his page. But there is no obvious gain of clearness by lifting the point into the air.

5. The rule that a period should follow every contraction has broken down in the case of cent, which is contracted from centum, a hundred. Per cent, is still used, but per cent is commoner.

It is better,, by the way, to say per annum than per year. But per is now used with many English words: per hour, per bearer, etc.

6. Used after a name and a Roman numeral, the period indicates that the numeral,should be read as an ordinal. Leo XIII. is read Leo Thirteenth. But the period is unnecessary.

7. The period is the proper point after the name, or name and address, beginning a letter.

Messrs. Marshall Field & Co., Chicago.


8. In a list after a colon, the semicolon may act as a grouper of phrases containing commas.

Initiative means several things: the courage to take the lead; the good sense to take it at the right time, the time which other pople don't yet perceive to have arrived; the wakeful attentiveness which sees real needs, not imaginary ones.

It may even be used for emphasis instead of the comma in a list of phrases that does not follow a colon.

If no personality shines through the words, they are dead things; arbitrary signs strung together; corpses of thoughts embalmed with ghastly precision.

9. The chief use of the colon is to introduce a formal list. It may be a list of words, a list of phrases, or a list of short sentences. This purpose of the colon outweighs all others. Beware of ancient rules which permit long sentences to be broken by the colon just because they are long. Every time the colon is used it should suggest a list, or the equivalent of what precedes the colon. In strict logic the colon is to prose what the mark of equality is to mathematics. Out of this fact grow the remaining rules for this mark.

An informal and uncomplicated list needs no colon. "Among the-qualifications of a good stenographer are accuracy, rapidity, and modesty." But suppose that you wish to elaborate that list of qualifications by adding descriptive phrases. Then you use the colon. "Among the qualifications of a good stenographer are: accuracy, or the ability to spell and punctuate; rapidity, which means getting work done quickly without sacrifice of accuracy; and modesty, which means so many things that we won't try to enumerate them here."

10. The colon introduces formal quotations. Informal quotations are preceded by the comma or nothing. This rule is vague - like all rules for punctuation - and examples are more important.

1. Mr. Mason said, in part: "Ladies and Gentlemen, etc." 2 Mr. Mason said, smilingly, "I don't agree," 3. Mr. Mason said that he didn't agree.

11. The colon is used after the salutation in business letters, thus: Dear Sir: There is no reason for adding a dash after the colon. It disfigures the page and looks like a flourish of trumpets.

§28. The Comma

The excessive use of the comma has been criticized in section twenty-six, and its function as a danger signal has there been pointed out.

1. The comma cannot separate independent statements unless it is followed by and or but.

Children are a long time in learning this rule, and a streak of childishness often persists in adults. Here is a childish sentence from the catalogue of a certain mail-order house.

The engine is thoroughly tested, it is first run on a limbering block, it is then connected with a shaft and propeller in a large tank.

The definition of a sentence requires either periods or semicolons in place of the commas after tested and block. Of course there are various ways of avoiding either periods or semicolons. For instance:

(a) The engine is thoroughly tested: it is first run on a limbering block, and is then connected with a shaft and propeller in a large tank.

(b) The engine is thoroughly tested, for it is first run on a limbering block and is afterwards connected with a shaft and propeller in a large tank.

2. Put a comma before and or but if it connects distinct statements. Put nothing when only words are joined.

1. Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided.

2. I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth. 3. All but two were lost, but the two were well worth saving.

3. A dependent clause standing first usually needs a comma.

1. When in doubt, do the next thing.

2. If thine enemy hunger, feed him.

When standing last, a dependent clause often needs no comma before it. Note the difference in the case of because clauses:

1. Rob not the poor man, because theft is a sin.

2. Do right because it is right, not because it pays.

When for, as, and since mean because, the fact is shown by prefixing a comma. Otherwise they will be taken for prepositions. No rule of punctuation is more important, and none is more constantly broken. The correct use of the two kinds of for, as, and since may be seen in these three sentences:

1. Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.

2. Pay as you go, as you go safely so.

3. Since 1776 we celebrate July fourth, since we celebrate the Declaration and not its formal signing.

After saying at the beginning of this chapter that the comma should be sparingly used, I may seem old-fashioned and inconsistent in insisting on this comma before the causal for, as, and since. But the omission of it often leads to misunderstanding, and even when it does not do that it gives an air of undignified breathlessness. It is decent to take breath before giving your reason. The reason will have more effect when it comes. This gasping out of reasons is not good business. To make the matter worse, some babblers will tack as clause to as clause, like this: "We want you to examine this booklet carefully as it contains the latest and best information on our goods as we have spent considerable time and expense in getting it up." Associate, I pray you, this kind of thing with weak men. Every time you omit a comma before causal for and as you place yourself or your employer among the breathless.

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