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Beside the point? Punctuation is dead, long live punctuation – Florence Hazrat | Aeon Essays

The Middle Ages: The Written Language Evolves

By the middle ages, when the comma, the full stop and the colon had become common, the question mark and the exclamation mark came in the picture, as it became clear that the spoken word was easily understood, but the written word needed emotional emphasis, clarity and intonation to be understood in its true context.


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Beside the point? Punctuation is dead, long live punctuation – Florence Hazrat | Aeon Essays

Beside the point? Punctuation is dead, long live punctuation – Florence Hazrat | Aeon Essays


Key Ideas

Changing Habits Of Punctuation

The digital age combined with short attention spans and time constraints has led to the demise of various punctuation skills like the omission of apostrophes, deliberate spelling mistakes and using abbreviations to a larger extent.

The new generation seems to create a new punctuation-free language of their own which does the job and is largely ignoring many prescribed grammar rules that seem like a relic of an old, elitist era.

The Blank Space: Early History Of Punctuation

  • Early stone inscriptions did not even have the punctuation we all take for granted: The blank space.
  • Ancient Greece and Rome had the written word for keeping records of political speeches and texts, which were carefully used by the orator for maximum rhetorical effect and verbal impact.
  • In 200 BCE, the Alexandrian Aristophanes worked on easing pronunciation of Greek for foreigners by using small circles to denote pauses, emphasising the rhythm of the sentence.
  • The 7th-century encyclopaedist Isidore Of Seville later took up the task of inserting grammar in the same text, inventing the period, the colon and the comma.

Punctuation In Religious Texts

  • The language in the Quran had cantillation marks written above the line to signify the kind of pause required.
  • The 9th Century Torah manuscripts show vowel additions and cantillation marks that help in the recitation of the same.
  • Modern Arabic and Hebrew texts have similar punctuation marks as many western languages.

The breaks and sonic links were primarily used to aid singing, sense-making and enhancing the beauty of the verses.

The Middle Ages: The Written Language Evolves

By the middle ages, when the comma, the full stop and the colon had become common, the question mark and the exclamation mark came in the picture, as it became clear that the spoken word was easily understood, but the written word needed emotional emphasis, clarity and intonation to be understood in its true context.

The Emergence Of Brackets And Parentheses

The Brackets as a form of punctuation came in the 14th century, first used by the Italian scholar Coluccio Salutati.

It was used 1500 years earlier (as a parenthesis) to separate one text from the other, forming a digression. The more subtle usage inside sentences came much later.

The Printing Press

Invented in 1450, the printing press revolutionized the distribution of books, and along with it, punctuation.

A large number of copies were now possible to be created with ease and a low cost and had the advantage of the replication being identical, paving the way for standardization and legibility.

History Of The Semicolon

  • Printers in many countries like Italy, France and Germany pioneered the use of advanced punctuation like the semicolon(invented by Italian poet Pietro Bembo) in 1494.
  • The usage of the semicolon, a way to pause in a sophisticated manner, puzzled many writers(and readers) making them a much-ridiculed form of punctuation for many centuries.
  • The prison letters by Martin Luther King Jr. used a series of sentences suspended in the air using the semicolon, adding to the weight of the suppressed black people’s conditions.
  • A 2012 reader survey in the Swedish Journal Språktidningen listed the semicolon as a favourite punctuation mark.

1905: The Comma Strike

In 1905, Russian printers demanded to be paid for punctuation, which according to them requires the same amount of effort and time as any normal letter of the alphabet.

This ‘Comma Strike’ spread as a popular boycott, leading to political turmoil.

Failed Punctuation Marks

  • The Mirrored Question Mark was created in 1575, to denote sarcasm or signal a rhetorical question.
  • The Upside Down Exclamation Mark was introduced in 1668, to signal irony.

These new marks and their iterations came in various manuscripts in the 18th and the 19th century but never caught on.

The Modern Age Of Punctuation

  • Full stops are now considered rude in a social media setting as they denote ‘finality’, which is the opposite of the infinite digital scroll seen everywhere.
  • Replying with a small word followed by a full stop (sure. ok.) in a digital conversation(like iMessage) feels abrupt and inconsiderate.
  • Colons and brackets have a new purpose: capturing the emotions and feelings of the writer to denote context.


22% of Americans work from home

.... while nearly 50% are involved with remote or virtual team work.

This continuing shift calls for a new range of behaviors and skills.

Communication challenges for remote teams
  • Body language. Even when we share the same space, the tone of a text or of an email is left wide open to interpretation and can generate anxiety.
  • The delay between our messages can often postpone or hide emotional reactions to our comments. Lacking an immediate response, we can become distracted, second-guess ourselves, or even grow frustrated with our teams.
3 types of distance in remote teams
  • Physical (place and time)
  • Operational (team size, bandwidth and skill levels)
  • Affinity (values, trust, and interdependency).

The best way for managers to drive team performance is by focusing on reducing affinity distance.

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“Be A Strong Writer”
“Be A Strong Writer”

This is one of the first pieces of advice people give to those seeking remote work.

When you work remotely, a few misplaced words can become an occupational hazard. Every w...

Accessible Language
  • Use of caps lock, emojis, italics and tildes (~) to make your language flowery, fun and human is a great idea for remote working. You can also use memes and gif images, provided they are not offensive to anyone.
  • Robot speak is not a good way to freely collaborate with your remote peers. Use simple words, and keep it on the casual side, skipping the inaccessible and stilted language. You can also opt for contractions like writing isn’t instead of is not.
Be Clear And Concise
  • Do not obscure your message by words that are there to decorate the sentence and make it sound wordy while camouflaging what you mean.
  • Make good use of qualifiers ("I think, In my opinion") while not coming across as a perpetually confused person. Don’t use qualifiers while making a strong point.
  • While writing documentation, it is prudent to avoid jargon and acronyms.
  • Use complete words and sentences. Shortcuts and acronyms block any actual communication, acting as roadblocks. On the same lines, avoid cliches, idioms and any idiotic sounding phrase that catches the ear well but doesn’t really do any good to anyone.
  • Remote working is often on a global scale, and certain expressions will not be understood by some participants, or worse, will be misunderstood.
  • Your words and tone should be tailored according to your audience. The words are different when you are writing to a client, and when you are in a small group chat with your peers. More people in chat also means adopting a polished, professional tone.

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Effective writing

Effective writing is not about grammar, punctuation, and spelling. It is about hitting your mark.

  • Effective writing is clear and has only one interpretation.
  • Effecti...
Writing as a tool

Writing is a way of communicating. When you use clear, credible and persuasive language, you don't have to worry about a beautiful sentence or fancy words.

  • If you are not clear from the start, you will end up wasting a lot of time clarifying your message. Aim to get it right from the start.
  • You can write the wrong thing that will land you up in an argument. If you didn't mean it that way, don't write it that way. Write what you mean.
  • Ineffective writing can cause lost opportunities.
Mindful learning

It means cultivates insightful knowing rather than just a brain overloaded with information

Mindfulness creates space to let new information in and to allow us to see how it rel...

Mindful Reading

It is a process of quiet reflection that requires mindful attentiveness, letting go of distracting thoughts and opinions to be fully in the moment with the text. 

It slows down the reader and the reading—that alone changes the experience. It moves the reader into a calm awareness, allowing for a more profound experience and understanding.

Mindful Writing

Writing benefits from the capacities that mindfulness cultivates: being in the moment, even when remembering the past or imagining the future; not judging others and oneself while still exercising discriminating wisdom; holding multiple perspectives; being open to the new; and practicing kindness, compassion, and patience. 

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Expressive writing

Is writing for the purpose of putting your own thoughts and feelings into words and it can be a powerful way to enhance overall wellbeing. 

It focuses on expressing and describing...

Expressive writing activities
  • Try Journaling: Putting words to our emotions often helps us understand them in a new way, and process them more effectively.
  • Schedule writing into your routine: e.g. Morning pages.
  • Find inspiration in music: Put on a random playlist and transcribe the images, memories and emotions that the music evokes for you.
  • Practice letter writing: Unspoken thoughts or feelings can feel like a heavy burden to carry. Consider putting these sentiments into a letter.
  • Expressing gratitude: Writing about people or experiences that we feel grateful for can help us maintain focus on the aspects of life that are hopeful and meaningful.
First words to learn

In English, just 300 words make up 65% of all written material. We use those words a lot, and that’s the case in every other language as well.

Use flash cards of the mo...

Learn cognates

Cognates are “true friends” of words you recognize from your native language that mean the same thing in another language.

For instance:

  •  Words like Action, nation, precipitation, solution, frustration, and thousands of other -tion words are spelled exactly the same in French, and you can quickly get used to the different pronunciation. Change that -tion to a -ción and you have the same words in Spanish. Italian is -zione and Portuguese is -ção.
  • Many languages also have words that share a common (Greek/Latin or other) root.
  • Even languages as different as Japanese can have heaps of very familiar vocabulary. 
Interact in your language daily
  • To hear the language consistently spoken, you can check out for a vast selection of live-streamed radio from your country of choice. 
  • To watch the language consistently, see what’s trending on Youtube in that country right now. 
  • To read the language consistently, you can find cool blogs and other popular sites on Alexa’s ranking of top sites per country.

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Old Vs New Stories

The stories in pop culture in the last century tend to be moralistic and have a clear demarcation of good and bad.

These stories have virtually the same structure of good guys fighting with...

Colour Vs Black and White

The old folktales didn't have a black-and-white narrative, and instead had nuanced characters with personality, and not necessarily morality.

In many old stories, the protagonist had a varied set of values, which were colorful and diverse.

Complex Vs Simple

The old complex storylines were not having a clear identification of what's good and what's bad. The reader had to figure out the details and the complexity which lead to endless discussions.

The modern tales provide a simplified 'colour by numbers' approach to understanding, with clear outlines as to who is the Hero with all the morals, and who is the bad guy who must be killed.

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Innovation at work
Innovation at work

When you look at great geniuses like Newton, for example, it can be easy to imagine that their ideas and work came exclusively out of their minds. But that is seldom how it works.


Everyone gets a lift up

We get to see further than our predecessors, not because we have a greater vision or greater height, but because we are lifted on their gigantic stature.

There are giants in every field. Don't let them intimidate you. Take from anywhere that resonates with you and inspires or fuels your imagination. Build upon it and improve it. Doing this will make your work authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent.

The "Not invented here" syndrome
'Not invented here syndrome' is a term for situations when we avoid using ideas, products, or data created by someone else, and instead develop our own even if it is more expensive, time-consuming, and of lower quality.
The syndrome can also show up as a reluctance to delegate work.
Creating a new solution may be more exciting, but new solutions create new problems.

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    Negative People

    Negative people want to bring you down. They rarely contribute, cannot accept you, and consistently work to hurt, belittle or suck away your motivation.

    Regardless of your accomplishme...

    Negative News

    Negative news will slowly bring you down, eventually draining your energy and leaving you unmotivated.

    Try to keep your distance from people who complain a lot and from media that promotes negative news.

    Fear Of Failure

    Many see failure as proof that our effort meant nothing. But failure is a feedback system and gives you the opportunity to fix things, reflect, and grow for the next time.

    When you fail, take a step back, look at the events that led to it, try to find the lesson in the failure and act upon it.

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    Bruce Lee

    “Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own.”

    Bruce Lee
    Making mistakes

    Mistakes are opportunities for learning and for creating something truly new.

    And the trick for making good mistakes is not trying to hide them. Be honest with yourself and really know your own mistakes, so that you learn from them and that you'll never repeat them.

    Reductio ad absurdum

    It's a mode of argumentation or a form of argument in which a proposition is disproven by following its implications logically to an absurd conclusion. 

    Take an assertion and see if you can inquire about any contradictions out of it. If you can, that proposition has to be discarded.

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