« PreviousContinue »
er stroke leaning forward, betokening a little short rest, without any perfectness yet of sentence": this description of a virgil makes it answer to our point, and the French Grammarians yet retain the name; the comma-point being by them named virgule. -of the come the quotation thus speaks;—"a come is with two tittles betokening a longer rest, and the sentence is yet unperfect, or else if it be perfect, there cometh more after belonging to it; the which more cannot be perfect by itself, without at the least somewhat of it that goeth afore”; this description of the come makes it answer nearly to our colon and semi-colon-points, and it will be referred to, when the colon and its point are treated upon.
The first notice, which I have taken of the semi-colonpoint is in a work, printed in 1605.
Of the note of exclamation the first I find printed, was in 1618.
The earliest use of the dash, that I have seen, was in the year 1662: it was then named the break, and served to denote an interruption, or an abrupt breaking off, in the midst of a period; subsequently it has been diverted from its primary use, and by some writers made to serve, without distinction, for the colon, semi-colon, and comma points, and even the parenthesispoints.
In the middle of the last century, I find a point distinct from the parenthesis-point, to which was given the name of parathesis ; the form of which is commonly called brackets; the fragment which it points out will hereafter be treated of.
The summary of the matter appears to me to be, that at the introduction of printing about 1445, only two
points, answering to our full-point and colon-point, were used,—that within half a century from that time, the comma, parenthesis, and interrogative points, were added,—that before the year 1660, all the points now in use, except the dash and parathesis, had become not uncommon,—that the dash under the name of break was then coming into use,-and that even now the parathesis is seldom used, and under that name is hardly known.
I come also to this conclusion, yet without speaking very confidently, that in the earlier ages of printing, something like a system of pointing was observed ;15 but that for the past two centuries, there are not two au ors to be found, who have observed the same system, and perhaps not one author, even in the same work, who is consistent throughout.
I also judge that in a great number, perhaps the greater number, of works printed during the past two centuries, the practice has been to leave the pointing mainly to the printer.
And I will conclude this section by saying, that I believe the historical part of it to be correct, as far as it goes,—that additions may yet be made to it,-and that although my opinions have been formed only on a part of the evidence, I have every reason to believe that that part is a fair sample of the whole.
SECTION THE THIRD.
Of periods, colons, semi-colons, commas, parentheses, paratheses, and interrogations, and their points; also of the interjection and its point, sometimes called the note of admiration, and the point or mark first called the break and now the dash,
In this essay periods, colons, semi-colons, commas, interrogatives, parentheses, and paratheses, are fully spoken of as being things distinct from full-points, colon-points, semi-colon-points, comma-points, interrogative-points or notes of interrogation, parenthesispoints, and parathesis-points: it will be contended that the period, colon, semi-colon, comma, interrogation, parenthesis, and parathesis are realities, and that the points, which in common parlance, bear those names are merely notes, marks, or signs; their several offices being only to point out where the realities, of which they are the indices, exist: to the authorities of Vossius, Lowth, and Campbell, before given on this head, that of the authors of the Port Royal Latin Grammar may be added;
in it, under the head of Punctuation, the period, colon, and comma, are treated as realities.
It is not to be expected that every one, into whose hands this essay may fall, will understand the distinction between the primary and secondary meanings of a word; and as the present essay cannot be fairly understood by any, who do not understand such a distinction, a definition or rather an illustration of it, shall be attempted. The primary meaning of a word is that very idea, and that idea alone, which, upon the first use of the word, was intended to be by it conveyed to
the mind of a hearer or reader :-the word lion, in its primary signification, means a well known animal; but it has several secondary meanings: sometimes a brave man is called a lion; sometimes lion-hearted: by way of derision a cowardly fellow is sometimes called a lion : the lions at the Tower of London were once considered wonderful sights; thence, in a secondary meaning, any thing in a place, animate or inanimate, worthy of a sight is termed one of the lions of the place :--the word ear, in its primary signification is the name of the outward organ of hearing, but in a secondary sense it means the attention of the mind ;
O Israel ! The mode of using a word in a secondary sense is called by Rhetoricians a trope.16
In many instances it has happened that the primary meaning of the word is altogether abandoned, forgotten, or become obsolete, and the word is never used but in a secondary meaning :-this is the case, in the English language, with the words colon, semi-colon, and comma; in the place of their signifying members or fragments of a period, they only raise in the minds of many men the ideas of certain points or marks; hence error and confusion have arisen, and hence the source of some of the difficulties of pointing! It may be thought that the distinction, between the members and fragments of a period and their signs or points, is dwelt upon to satiety; but, it is the ground-work of the system : the sign of a reality can never be the reality; as an hieroglyphic of the sun cannot be the sun, nor the letters SUN, that luminary ; so a full-point is not a period, or a comma-point a comma.
Whenever the words period, colon, semi-colon, comma, interrogative, parenthesis, and parathesis, are used in this work, they will be used in their several primary, and not in their secondary meanings.
Periods, colons, and semi-colons, have so intimate a relation to each other, that in English composition, what is one and what is another, cannot be well understood, until what is said of all has been gone through.
“With respect to Periods, it would be neither practically useful, nor even suitable to the present object, to enter into an examination of the different senses in which various authors have employed the word. A technical term may allowably be employed, in a scientific work, in any sense not very remote from common usage, (especially when common usage is not uniform and invariable, in the meaning affixed to it,) provided it be clearly defined, and the definition strictly adhered to. By a Period, then, is to be understood in this place, any sentence, whether simple or complex, which is so framed that the Grammatical construction will not admit of a close, before the end of it; in which, in short, the meaning remains suspended, as it were, till the whole is finished.”'17 The aforegoing quotation is from Archbishop Whateley's Elements of Rhetoric, and the liberty he there allows, will in this work be taken with the period : although it has been the usage with Grammarians and Rhetoricians, only to consider that a period, which consists of two or more members, a sentence of only one member will be regarded as a period in English composition; this