Have you ever heard an owl chuckle? They do. Well, to be accurate, what sounds like a chuckle usually expresses annoyance, but our Grammar Owl is definitely chuckling with amusement today. (To hear what an owl chuckle sounds like, listen to this.)

He’s been reading a delightful book called On Your Marks: A Package of Punctuation by Richard Armour, a poet and humorist.

The book is out of print, but it’s worth looking for (I found it in a small town library — I am grateful for our wonderful library system that makes books available all over the province, free of charge.)

On Your Marks is a light, poetic look at the most familiar punctuation marks and the way they are used. In each poem, the particular punctuation mark is written in red. Here’s an excerpt from one of the poems (in italics, just to indicate that it’s a quotation):

The Dash

How dashing the dash is
So straight and so narrow,
It aims at a word like a spearor an arrow
And luckily hasn’t a point at one end
Or it might
Just by accident
Puncture a friend.

Although light verse, the poems do give guidance in how to use the various punctuation marks, and when not to use them, as well. For example, the poem above ends with this explanation and warning:

It’s used to gain emphasis, vigor, a touch
Of surpriseand it’s alsoby some
Used too much.

See why the Owl is chuckling?

Sometimes a little lightheartedness goes a long way to helping us remember what we need to know as writers. I hope that if you are able to find a copy of this book in your library, that you’ll enjoy it — and learn from it — (there are those dashes!) as much as the Owl and I have.

Vital info:
Title: On Your Marks: A Package of Punctuation
Author: Richard Armour
Publisher: McGraw-Hill, 1969.

If you’re not able to find this book, check out Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss. Also fun, though not in the same style as On Your Marks at all, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves covers a lot more territory (and is, admittedly, based on British English usage, so some standards will differ from those of American English.) Her website looks like fun, too.

Happy reading! Happy writing!