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Punctuation

PUNCTUATION (Lat. punctum, a point), the theorv or art of " pointing " a literary composition so as to divide it properly into sentences and portions of sentences, which the " points " are used to mark at their close, with a view to precision in the meaning of a continuous set of written words, by the indication of what would be pauses or changes of expression if they were spoken. The uses of the chief " points " are explained as follows in the " Rules for Compositors " at the Oxford University Press, compiled by Mr Horace Hart, the university printer:

The "full stop" or "period" (.) marks the end of a sentence. The "colon" (:) Greek KuiKov, a limb is at the transition point of the sentence. The " semicolon " (;) separates different statements. The " comma " Gr. KbuiM, from nbwrtiv, i.e. a piece cut off separates clauses, phrases and particles. (The terms " period " Greek xpo5o$ " colon," " comma," now identified in punctuation with the signs here given, were borrowed from the Greek grammarians, who originally described either the whole sentence or a longer or shorter part of it respectively in this way.) Among other signs, the " dash " ( ) marks abruptness or irregularity. The " exclamation " (!) marks surprise. The " interrogation " or " query " (?) asks a question. The apostrophe (') marks elisions or the possessive case. " Quotes," quotation-marks or " inverted commas " (" ") define quoted words. Irregularities or interpolations in a sentence are marked by various forms of bracket ( ) or parenthesis. Literary usage and the practice of printing-houses vary, however, so much that it is impossible to define exactly and shortly the part played by some of these points in a reasonable system of punctuation. The Oxford Rules already mentioned, which deal also with spelling and other pitfalls in literary composition and printing, carry the authority of such experts as Dr J. A. H. Murray and Dr Henry Bradley; and the art of punctuation may be studied also in such works as H. Beadnell's Spelling and Punctuation, P. Allardyce's Stops: or how to punctuate, T. L. de Vinne's Correct Composition, and T. Lefevre's Guide pratique du compositeur. The acceptance of a conventional system of modern punctuation is mainly due to the invention of printing, and to the ingenuity and care of individual typographers. In the earlier forms of writing the letters ran on continuously in lines; it was only by degrees that actual words were divided from one another by spacing within the line; then later came the distribution of words into sentences by means of points, and the introduction by Aldus Manutius in the 16th century of a regular system for these. The chief signs were inherited by the printers from the dots of the Greek grammarians, but often with altered meanings; thus the Greek interrogation mark (;) becomes the modern semicolon. (See PALAEOGRAPHY and TYPOGRAPHY.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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