Tag Archives: punctuation

The Grammarian’s Five Daughters

I found this fabulous short story that uses a fairy tale/fable structure to examine the values of different types of words. It’s beautiful.

Once there was a grammarian who lived in a great city that no longer exists, so we don’t have to name it. Although she was learned and industrious and had a house full of books, she did not prosper. To make the situation worse, she had five daughters. Her husband, a diligent scholar with no head for business, died soon after the fifth daughter was born, and the grammarian had to raise them alone. It was a struggle, but she managed to give each an adequate education, though a dowry — essential in the grammarian’s culture — was impossible. There was no way for her daughters to marry. They would become old maids, eking (their mother thought) a miserable living as scribes in the city market. The grammarian fretted and worried, until the oldest daughter was fifteen years old.

Then the girl came to her mother and said, “You can’t possibly support me, along with my sisters. Give me what you can, and I’ll go out and seek my fortune. No matter what happens, you’ll have one less mouth to feed.”

The mother thought for a while, then produced a bag. “In here are nouns, which I consider the solid core and treasure of language. I give them to you because you’re the oldest. Take them and do what you can with them.”…

I’ll let you find out what happens next, but do go read it. It’s delightful.

It made me wish there was a similar story about punctuation. Maybe there is! I’m a fan of the way commas herd words together in small-but-appropriate-sized bunches, and the way periods are always there to give us a break. The interrobang (?!) is rare but mighty, and apostrophes help us cut the crap.

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