PC 195 Snippets …….

The title of this PC is already open to debate and criticism according to a number of articles about the modern trends in punctuation or indeed non-punctuation as every punctuation mark be it a colon semi colon or full stop is coming under the magnifying glass of those who text and twit. Note that there was no punctuation in this sentence; did the sense of what I have written come across? So what did I mean when I wrote ‘Snippet’ with five stops? Indicating perhaps that  the title has no end, that I couldn’t think of the right word to add to ‘snippets’ or that I was just lazy and believed that my readers would read and understand it in whatever way they wanted to ….. and that that might depend on their age. ‘Snippets’ is often used to pull together a number of ‘new items’ that don’t in themselves merit a whole essay – the dictionary saying “a small part, piece, or thing; a brief quotable passage.”

Maybe the common theme in this PC is “…..ation” – punctuation and education.

I hope most of you have read Lynne Truss’ ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves’ (see PC 26) about punctuation where the addition of a comma after Eats changes the whole meaning of the title; particularly when a Panda is concerned. (Note 1)

Susie Dent, writing in The Times last month, suggests ‘kids are killing the full stop’. By way of illustration, Dent offers a text response to a friend who’s had a pay rise: “great” or “great!” or “great.” “Most of us would choose the second, the first being a little muted and the third hints either at envy or absolute indifference.” Despite my pedantic view on punctuation, I begrudgingly admit she and those she’s observing have a point (aka full stop?). 

One morning in 2010 I was in The Institute of Directors on London’s Pall Mall, heavily engaged in a leadership and business coaching session with Frank Fletcher. Frank is the CEO of the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust, a charity that provides wonderful sailing opportunities to teenagers recovering from cancer. En passant, Frank asked whether I had seen the RSA animation of Ken Robinson’s Changing Education Paradigms.

I hadn’t and we spent the next twelve minutes watching this delightful representation of Robinson’s view on modern education from his 2010 TED talk. Having a pictorial preference to learning, I found the cartoon brought a hugely important message to life. Subsequently I watched the TED talk and bought his book ‘The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything’ and devoured it as if it was the first book I had read which really resonated with my inner emotions.

Our brains need to be activated – a bit like applying an activation code to some new App on my iPhone – and that brain switch-on is often achieved through education. Yet Robinson suggests that our current educational structure actually crushes creative thought, so pure in the young. Ken illustrates his book with some interesting vignettes, such as the one of a child who normally paid little attention in class. In art one day the teacher asked her what she was drawing.

“A picture of God.”

“But no one knows what God looks like!”

To which the girl replied: “They will in a minute.”

In his book he described meeting Dame Gillian Lynne, the choreographer behind Cats and Phantom of The Opera. Lynne had been a disruptive child in school and in desperation her parents took her to see a specialist. After chatting to her for a while, the psychologist said that he wanted to talk to her parents alone outside the room and, as they left, he turned on the radio. Through the little glass panel in the door they saw that Lynne immediately got up and danced. Rather than medication to calm her behaviour, she was sent to a dance school, igniting her creativity.

In PC 72 I told of a little shopping expedition to buy a light bulb and, as it seemed appropriate, wrote of my experiences a little in the style of James Frey’s ‘A Million Little Pieces’. His prose was continuous, with little punctuation. Initially I didn’t like it and looked for the colons and semi-colons, not to mention the paragraphs! Now I admit it works well …. occasionally!! And on punctuation, if you have ever looked at some legal document, maybe your will, you will realise that legalise is not a fan of punctuation, anywhere.

Robinson describes creativity as the process of having original ideas that add value. “Creativity is putting your imagination to work.”  When I am at my most creative, I sense I am extremely focused, in my zone, ignoring the outside world and consciously concentrating (back to Pooh: “My brain hurts.”)

Snippets can be musical of course and often one hears a few bars, chords or semi-quavers and think “Oh! That’s Ed Sheeran or that slow movement from Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto.” Recently in a novel I read of Bach’s Crab Canon used as a mobile ringtone – and immediately found it on YouTube. I never knew!

Robinson banged the drum to have creativity of equal importance as numeracy and literacy in our education system, but the idea failed to gain mainstream traction. He died aged 70 of cancer late last month, still using his metaphorical drumsticks. I will miss his contributions to our lives.

Sir Ken Robinson 4th March 1950 – 21st August 2020

My scribbles, started six years ago, have challenged my own ability to write something that people might want to read. In that process I find myself using a number of full stops as ……. to suggest my mind is catching up with my typing fingers.

What really concerns me is the current assault on the full stop. Note I have naturally put one at the end of the sentence. Lauren Fonteyn, a linguistics expert has suggested that not using a full stop is ‘neutral’, but using one adds a sense of ‘being peeved … or that you’ve done texting’. Really? Are we so concerned of slighting someone that we can’t even put a full stop at the end of a sentence? God help us! Dent on punctuation again: “The TV listing once included the actor Peter Ustinov interviewing ‘Nelson Mandela, an 800 year old demigod and a dildo collector’. The right punctuation can save a certain embarrassment!

If you only text or twit, writing in an abbreviated language that is understood by your recipients, that’s all well and good. But it’s unlikely you will understand the breath, richness, depths and grammatical constructs that make English one of the most glorious languages on the planet. If that’s still OK, that’s OK; I sincerely hope it’s not.

Richard 10th September 2020

Note 1 The original, seen by Truss, was a notice on a Panda paddock. It should have read ‘eats shoots (ie green bamboo) and leaves’; someone had added capital letters and a coma after Eats which changed the meaning – almost ‘Gun Fight at the OK Corral’ Panda-style?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s