Body of Punctuation


The 21st century has introduced new media for language. And it’s not just the modern electronic technology of the internet, carrying messages via email or Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, and the rest. It’s also carrying messages on something as primitive and ancient as human history — our bodies.

Well, not everyone’s bodies. But especially those of the millennials, who seem inclined to punctuate themselves with tattooed marks. And while the body punctuation often conveys the same message as it does in more conventional contexts, this medium does allow for more fanciful extrapolation. Or for a millennial to say, like Humpty Dumpty, this is my punctuation and this is what I mean by it.

A couple of years ago I wrote about the semicolon as an anti-suicide tattoo.

How can that be? Well, choosing a semicolon rather than a period means that there is more life to come, rather than the end of it. A whole movement, Project Semicolon, developed from that idea.

But semicolons aren’t the only punctuation marks inked permanently into the skins of young people (and a few older ones) in the new millennium.

Because of Project Semicolon, the meaning of a tattooed semicolon is fairly universal. Other marks are not.

Here are some possible explications, from various sources:
Ellipses … mean mystery or mysteriousness
Question marks ? mean a question in your life, or a quest for knowledge
Exclamation marks !!! mean an attitude of surprise or excitement toward life
Interrobang ?! (question and exclamation marks combined) means surprised proclamation

One writer proposes:
“A colon: something special coming? A dash: an interruption? A comma: boring continuation? Exclamation: drama? Parentheses: a bubble? I like the ellipsis. Three dots. And then nothing.”

On that same site you can find, by another: “Anyone who doesn’t have a punctuation tattoo is implicitly conveying to others that their life is one big run-on sentence.”

I wonder if any readers of Lingua Franca have engaged in self-punctuation. Or perhaps their children have? And has anybody tattooed a definition, or a usage note, along with the mark?

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