Symbolic stage directions for language

Punctuation marks are the symbolic stage directions for language. These “stage directions” tell us to pause or use a specific inflection, to soften or emphasize, to slow down or to speed up. They help us to make sense of and give meaning to the words we read.

I find the symbols of punctuation especially intriguing when they are used graphically, adding a whole other layer to meaning. Here are a few of the images I have begun to collect. (I have many more but would love any new examples you might find.)

Another kind of “graphic” use of punctuation comes from Victor Borge, who reminds us that even when we speak aloud, we are not always clear and that by using a phonetic punctuation, “we can underline what we intend to convey to each other” with greater clarity (and sense of humor).

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2 Responses to Symbolic stage directions for language

  1. How timely. I was just thinking that my use of question marks and exclamation points in my blog titles has been excessive. My titles seem to suggest that I am not really certain what the heck I am writing about, what with all those question marks idling about.

  2. Michael says:

    One of my favorite Borge pieces. I was fortunate to see him perform at The Chicago Theater too many years ago to remember the date. He was wonderful, especially when he pretended to forget everything (or did he) and he walked over to stage right to get “instructions,” shaking his head yes and then no and then yes. Finally he came back center stage and continued with the piece.

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