A very funny British woman decided to write a book about punctuation, which become the wildly popular Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. I remember in one chapter Lynne Truss describes her urge to walk around with a giant red Sharpie correcting punctuation and grammar in signs, especially the apostrophe.
I occasionally have that same impulse. For example, today I was walking back from lunch and I noticed a sign that read "Stamped with Mamas Great Seal of Approval". Did you spot the missing punctuation? It's Mama's Great Seal, after all. People, I muttered to myself, have no sense of punctuation or proper uses of grammar.
Which leads me to the other half of my internal debate: should I get so caught up in others' improper use of grammar and punctuation? Do I side with the language purists who declare that English is going to hell in a handbasket (which apparently has been going on for centuries)--or do I side with the more moderate linguists who say "So? It's language. It's meant to change".
Sometimes I just don't know. Punctuation is a useful tool when employed properly, and I know that I can be confused by misplaced apostrophes or commas, or the lack thereof. The rules are not merely there to give a writer a headache and complicate their already difficult task; punctuation is useful to clarify, separate, and keep phrases where they belong. Remove the punctuation from the previous sentence, and you (my dear readers) would be confused. I would like then to separate the concept of language from punctuation, and spoken communication from writing.
Punctuation assists in clarifying writing in a way that is unnecessary in oral communication. Commas, periods, question marks, etc. provide the pauses, the emphasis, the lilt of speaking. We really cannot do away with punctuation, though in language we can come to accept the current use of "like" (instead of "as", for example, not as a random insertion that teenagers use). Punctuation is not as flexible as trends in language because punctuation fills a need that a different word cannot: it simulates spoken language.
I think in the matter of punctuation, I am going to side with Truss and the unbending grammarians: use it properly. Though I could probably survive if we forever dumped the who/whom distinction (subject/object pronouns!), I would likely perish if I could no longer use the colon or semicolon (don't even try to count how many I've used in this post alone). And the pesky apostrophe? I think we should keep it too. It tells me if people are possessing things instead of being plural, or if a word is a contraction. Terribly useful.
Do you think we should let the poor users of punctuation do away with our useful system? Where do you sit? And if you are obsessed with a piece of punctuation, what is it?