Review: Punctuation..?


I’m delighted to be reviewing a book about punctuation, as this is the sort of thing I read for pure enjoyment. (Disclosure: Aside from a reviewer’s copy of the text, no other compensation was provided.)

This is a slender volume, 36 pages in length. It offers a brief explanation the 21 most common marks of punctuation, with humorous line drawings to accompany each item.


Who is this book for?

According to the marketing copy, the target audience is fairly broad, including “all ages, although especially for teenagers and people who do not like to read and feel reading a book is boring,” and for skill levels ranging from “emerging to expert.”

As I was reading each entry, checking it against my own understanding, it became apparent that this text applies to BrE (British English) speakers and does not align in certain respects with AmE. For example, in the section on quotation marks, the author states that in the UK, single quotes are generally preferred for quoted speech, and double quotes are used for speech-within-speech. That’s the UK style, but AmE follows the reverse pattern.

In the Oxford Guide to Style in “5.13 Quotation marks,” the same explanation is provided, with a note that in the UK, newspapers generally follow US style with respect to quotation marks.

If you are not a BrE speaker but do edit or write for a UK audience, then this book might be a good reference to have on hand. There are additional differences that might elude an AmE speaker, such as the use of (curved) and {curly} brackets, and em — and en – dashes. (Although, to be fair, most AmE speakers have difficulty with these in US style, too.)

I was surprised to see explanations for the use of interpuncts, pilcrows, primes, and guillemets. As these generally aren’t used in standard copy, their inclusion is (in my opinion) more for interest and comprehensiveness.

You could digest this book easily in one sitting, using it to further your understanding or refresh your memory. Professional editors need to know much more than what is included here, and to have a sense of which rules are more akin to style calls than hard-and-fast edicts. For the general writer or student in a BrE context, Punctuation..? covers virtually virtually everything you need to know on this subject.


How to use this book

Page 1 is the table of contents. Find the element of punctuation you want to review and flip to that page. If you have this text ready at hand, you’ll get your answer faster than a Google search. I could see this being an appropriate gift or stocking stuffer for a student.

(Note: The title of the book blends two points of ellipsis with a question mark, the bottom point of which amusingly completes the ellipsis. This is intentional on the part of the author, and a hint that the contents will be playful in tone.)

Title: Punctuation..?

Publisher: User Design (2nd ed., 2012)

Author: Thomas Bohm

ISBN: 978-0-9570712-2-3

Price: £10 (EUR 11.66, US $15.43)