Tag Archives: National Punctuation Day

National awareness days & weeks: from speech to Scrabble

BetterAmericanSpeechWeek

Happy National Scrabble Day! (It was on this day in 1899 that Alfred Mosher Butts, the game’s inventor, was born.) It’s a day for all glossophiles to celebrate, literally with fun and games. And this month is also one for literary lovers: April is National Poetry Month here in the United States (and in Canada). Started by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, the annual April initiative celebrates poetry and its vital place in American culture, with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets banding together to organize readings, festivals, book displays, workshops, and other poetic events.

But national awareness days, weeks and months devoted to literary and literacy causes haven’t always been as cheery and celebratory in nature.

Nearly a century ago, in 1918, the Chicago Woman’s Club initiated “Better American Speech Week”, taking its revolutionary mission to “speak the language of your flag” and “watch your speech” into schools across the nation. The movement required the schoolchildren to take a  “Pledge for Children”, promising “not [to] dishonor my country’s speech by leaving off the last syllables of words” and “to make my country’s language beautiful for the many boys and girls of foreign nations who come here to live” (as well as a distinctly racist promise that I don’t think is appropriate to publish here).

Previewing the club’s activities in 1921,  the Literary Digest wrote:

“‘Invest in good speech — it pays daily dividends’ is typical of the slogans that will be used during Better Speech Week of November 6 to arouse the nation to the evils of slovenly speech — careless enunciation, ungrammatical constructions, mispronunciations, the use of slang and poor choice of words. … Mr. H. Addington Bruce, the well-known author, observes that ‘there are men to-day in inferior positions who long ago would have commanded good salaries if they had only taken the trouble to overcome remediable speech defects. Strange how careful people are about dress— how sure that dignity and good taste in dress help to make one’s success in getting on in the world—and at the same time how careless these same people are about speech, which is the dress of the mind.’ ”
In an article published in Primary Education in November 1919, a spokesperson for the club stated: “We are looking forward to a time when all of us shall feel the same pride in fine speech that we have in fine clothes. Very few of us object to an improvement in our wearing apparel; we don’t object to having a finer touring car than our neighbor. Why are we so concerned lest our speech should be a little better than his? Why do we like to pretend that we are so poor in speech? Why are we satisfied with the inferior brand?”

Thankfully we’ve come a long way since the Speech Week of the strident Chicago lady grammarians — although many will and do argue that today’s grammar, spelling or punctuation days are anachronistic, prescriptive, and unforgiving, powered by people and movements that are out of touch with the evolving nature of our dynamic language. Fortunately, awareness days and months tend to be more celebratory than dogmatic these days, and provide useful opportunities for schools and communities to devote time and focus to the fun and art and importance of literacy rather than to its policing.

Here’s a list of the national and international days, weeks and months (that I’m aware of) devoted to literacy and language, poetry and punctuation. Please do let me know of any others that you know of.

January 23:  National Handwriting Day (US)

Jan 26 – Feb 2: National Storytelling Week (UK)

Jan 27: Family Literacy Day (Canada)

Feb 21: International Mother Language Day (world)

March 4: National Grammar Day (US)

March 5: World Spelling Day (world)

March 7: World Book Day (world)

April: National Poetry Month (US & Canada)

April 13: National Scrabble Day (US)

April 18: Poem in Your Pocket Day (US)

April 23: World Book Night (world)

May: National Share-a-story Month (UK)

May 3: World Press Freedom Day (world)

May (varies; week following Memorial Day weekend): Scripps National Spelling Bee (US/world)

June 22: National Flash Fiction Day (UK)

July 8: World Writer’s Day (world)

Sep 8: International Literacy Day (world)

Sep 13: Roald Dahl Day (world)

Sep 24: National Punctuation Day (US)

Sep 26: European Day of Languages (Europe)

October: International School Library Month (world)

Oct 4: National Poetry Day (UK)

Oct 14 – 20: Dyslexia Awareness Week  (UK)

Oct 21: Everybody Writes Day (UK)

November: National Blog Posting Month (world)

November: National Novel Writing Month (UK)

Nov 21: World Hello Day (world)

December: Read a New Book Month (US)

Dec 10: Plain English Day (world)

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Special thanks to National Awareness Days.com for much of this information.

It’s National Punctuation Day … ! : )

It’s September 24: National Punctuation Day!! To celebrate, I’m going to indulge in my slightly weird form of synesthesia that has to do with commas and colons. I know: the brains of most synesthetes come alive with colors and personalities when they rest their eyes on numbers or letters; well, in my case it’s punctuation that does the trick — and not just when ‘:’ + ‘)’ = : ) … Here are a few of the characters that dance in my head when my eyes alight on these sentence markers.

The lowly, overused comma is both modest and attention-seeking, hoping to get noticed enough to make the reader pause for breath, but not enough, for the most part, to cause alarm, distraction, or closure. One of the most vital and possibly even the most argued-about little guys in our armory of written symbols, he plods along and does his job, bravely and unobtrusively, without too much fuss.

The passionate exclamation mark! So full of exuberance and life! And youthfulness! And sometimes uselessness! Used in excess by every teenager and texter! A shot of grammatical caffeine!!!

The underused colon: anticipating, leading, prodding: what explanation or surprise is going to follow it: where is it taking us? So often hijacked and substituted by its less pointed cousin, the comma, the colon looks and thinks forward: what’s next?

The stately and slightly smug semi-colon lords over the comma with its more majestic and powerful pause; without bringing closure, it begs us to stay with the thought; it teases us with the idea that there might be closure; but there’s more. Like a dominant chord before the final tonic, it keeps us dangling and hanging on until the denouement: the period.

The melancholy little ellipsis, which trails off into silence … Never really finishing its thought, but inviting speculation and ambiguity … Sometimes just inquisitive, other times provocative, it gives pause, and invites the reader to draw his own conclusions … A more classy version of the typewritten smiley face, the ellipsis hints at irony, jest, and sometimes it even flirts …

The mad professor’s dash — unable to stay on topic and always ready for an aside — livens and colors the flow of thought. Although it has to be used sparingly — too many dashes in a sentence cause distraction and confusion — its job is unique and can’t be delegated to the more pedestrian comma. No — the dash has some of the exclamation point’s vitality and elan. We write fluently and logically, following a steady stream of thoughts  — and then the dash interrupts us, but it can’t be ignored.

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Here’s how National Punctuation Day suggests that we celebrate this important day. And remember: don’t overdo it.

http://www.nationalpunctuationday.com/celebrate.html

Here’s a game plan for your celebration of National Punctuation Day®. A few words of caution: Don’t overdo it.

  • Sleep late.
  • Take a long shower or bath.
  • Go out for coffee and a bagel (or two).
  • Read a newspaper and circle all of the punctuation errors you find (or think you find, but aren’t sure) with a red pen.
  • Take a leisurely stroll, paying close attention to store signs with incorrectly punctuated words.
  • Stop in those stores to correct the owners.
  • If the owners are not there, leave notes.
  • Visit a bookstore and purchase a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.
  • Look up all the words you circled.
  • Congratulate yourself on becoming a better written communicator.
  • Go home.
  • Sit down.
  • Write an error-free letter to a friend.
  • Take a nap. It has been a long day.