Oregon State Bar Bulletin — AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2011
The Legal Writer
Let the Festivities Begin!
National Punctuation Day
By Suzanne E. Rowe

September 24 is National Punctuation Day! In case you’ve missed the event since its inception eight years ago, this column will fill you in on the festivities. Headlines! Cooking! Poetry! And a contest for Bulletin readers! This is the event of the year!

Punctuation in the News
Given the widespread coverage last year, perhaps you have heard of National Punctuation Day. The founder, Jeff Rubin, was interviewed on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, and a number of other radio stations highlighted the day.

In the print media, where punctuation really matters most, countless stories have been written. Here are my favorite headlines (all from September 2009):

Its' National Puncuation Day! – Runner's World

National Puncuation Day: Stope Dragging Your Comma Around – January Magazine

Stop! Pause, momentarily, to appreciate puncuation;
National Puncuation Day begins – Palm Beach (FL) Post

Puncuation errors can cost jobs, money, esteem – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

This last one is a must read. The article begins with serious commentary from a law school dean about the importance of punctuation in effective advocacy. It continues with warnings to job seekers about how punctuation errors can be fatal in cover letters and resumes. It concludes on a lighter note with a dateline of “Famous Moments in Punctuation,” including the creation of the interrobang (a combination question mark and exclamation point). The link is

Baking for Punctuation
The day is not just about headlines and news stories. It’s truly a celebration.

My friend Gail, who teaches legal writing in the south, makes punctuation cookies for her students each year. They come in the most interesting shapes: commas, semi-colons, exclamation points, etc. I’d try baking punctuation cookies, but that would kill my reputation as a cold and heartless curmudgeon. Maybe instead I’ll make cookies for the neighborhood kids, instilling in them the inherent goodness of punctuation.

For those who require more sustenance from their punctuation, I offer the official National Punctuation Meatloaf. I am not making this up. Here’s the recipe (and even if you hate meatloaf, be sure to read the serving size at the end):

2 pounds of ground chuck
1 cup water 1 or 2 eggs (it’s a forgiving recipe)
1 box of Stove Top dressing (any flavor)

1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup brown sugar

Mix meatloaf ingredients. Using an ice cream scoop, form the meatloaf mixture into punctuation mark-shaped tins. Mix 1/2 cup ketchup together with 1/2 cup brown sugar for topping. Top each filled tin with the topping mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

A fist-size period makes one serving.

Can’t you just imagine the Punctuation Day parties around the state this September? Invite your friends! Be sure you allow wines only with correctly used punctuation on the label.

Punctuation Gifts
Even if you can’t cook, you can celebrate National Punctuation Day with gifts for family, friends and former English teachers (or for yourself). The Internet is filled with gift ideas; just search “punctuation gifts.”

One site includes question mark tennis shoes, ties covered with punctuation marks, bumper stickers to “Save the Semi-Colon,” buttons for the comma police and t-shirts with messages a bit too risqué to include here. The classiest gift I found? Typewriter cuff links made from the old punctuation keys.

Punctuation Haiku
Folks across the nation and around the world write haiku for National Punctuation Day, and their creations are inspiring. Last year, entries came from not only English-speaking nations including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand but also France, the Netherlands, Japan and Italy. A panel of star-spangled judges selected the top 25 from over 3,000 submissions.

These 10 are especially creative, and they provide an excellent review of basic punctuation marks. (You knew I’d try to squeeze in a quick lesson, right?)

I love the em dash.
It’s a lot easier than
The 50-yard one.
— Lex Friedman

Searching for the words?
An ellipsis marks the spot.
Mystery . . . remains.
—Shannon Smith

Exclamation point
means “I am so excited!”
CAPS LOCK is just loud.
—Morgan O’Brien

Commas, like good friends,
should be used but not abused
lest, they, turn, on, you.
—Dave Gash

Supermarket trip.
I erase apostrophes
from apple’s and grape’s.
—Michelle Green

Poor semicolon
Half comma, half period
So often misused.
—Ken Guzik

Time to eat grandma.
Save her with a comma or
Simply savor her.
—Tom Murawski

When to hyphenate?
Compound adjectives, for one.
Like three-line poem.
—Sara Michael

Period means stop.
A comma signals slow down.
Traffic cops of text.
—Nikki Savage

All English teachers
Say I cannot punctuate.
What do they all mean;
—Jacob Hewson

The Challenge
Duly inspired, I now issue a challenge to readers of the Bulletin. Send your own haiku on punctuation to me, and we’ll publish the best. (I get to be “the decider,” with no appeal to anyone.) Remember the structure of haiku: three lines with 5, 7 and 5 syllables each.

The Website
Every major event needs its own site on the Internet. Even if National Punctuation Day isn’t yet in the same league as Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, it does have its own site: http://www.nationalpunctuationday.com/.

In addition to the headlines, recipes and haiku featured in this article, you’ll find such helpful links as “How to Celebrate National Punctuation Day” (with a step-by-step schedule for a successful day), “Photos from Readers” (mostly showing signs with incorrect punctuation) and “Resources” (including a link to the “Apostrophe Protection Society” in the UK).

Of course, the site also has a link to each punctuation mark, with clear explanations and examples — just in case you’d like to brush up your punctuation before the big day.

Happy Punctuation Day!


Suzanne E. Rowe is the James L. and Irene R. Hershner Professor at the University of Oregon School of Law, where she directs the Legal Research and Writing Program. You can send your punctuation haiku to her at srowe@uoregon.edu. Please put “PUNCTUATION HAIKU” in the subject line.

An archive of  The Legal Writer articles is available here.

© 2011 Suzanne E. Rowe

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