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I have taken a paragraph of prose from a 19th century novel I once read and enjoyed. I have removed all traces of punctuation. Please attempt to punctuate it without looking it up on line. After a while, I shall post the actual text.
quote:
After dropping Bartley Hubbard at the Events building Lapham drove on down Washington Street to Nankeen Square at the South End where he had lived ever since the mistaken movement of society in that direction ceased he had not built but had bought very cheap of a terrified gentleman of good extraction who discovered too late that the South End was not the thing and who in the eagerness of his flight to the Back Bay threw in his carpets and shades for almost nothing Mrs Lapham was even better satisfied with their bargain than the Colonel himself and they had lived in Nankeen Square for twelve years they had seen the saplings planted in the pretty oval round which the houses were built flourish up into sturdy young trees and their two little girls in the same period had grown into young ladies the Colonels tough frame had expanded into the bulk which Bartleys interview indicated and Mrs Lapham while keeping a more youthful outline showed the sharp print of the crows foot at the corners of her motherly eyes and certain slight creases in her wholesome cheeks the fact that they lived in an unfashionable neighbourhood was something that they had never been made to feel to their personal disadvantage and they had hardly known it till the summer before this story opens when Mrs Lapham and her daughter Irene had met some other Bostonians far from Boston who made it memorable they were people whom chance had brought for the time under a singular obligation to the Lapham ladies and they were gratefully recognisant of it they had ventured a mother and two daughters as far as a rather wild little Canadian watering place on the St Lawrence below Quebec and had arrived some days before their son and brother was expected to join them two of their trunks had gone astray and on the night of their arrival the mother was taken violently ill Mrs Lapham came to their help with her skill as nurse and with the abundance of her own and her daughters wardrobe and a profuse single hearted kindness when a doctor could be got at he said that but for Mrs Laphams timely care the lady would hardly have lived he was a very effusive little Frenchman and fancied he was saying something very pleasant to everybody


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Do you want us to post our attempts?


Richard English
 
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Do you want us to post our attempts?

Why don't you send them to me in a PM, and I'll summarize them later.


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I've had a go.


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So far, I have received punctuated versions of the text from Proofreader, Wordmatic, arnie, and goofy. Any others? (Send me a PM if you plan to submit and entry, and I'll hold off posting the results along with the original.)


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And now you have mine, along with a couple of comments with reference to commas.
 
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So, BobHale and Richard English have submitted their versions. I will post them all later this afternoon my time.


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Proofreader:
quote:
After dropping Bartley Hubbard at the Events building, Lapham drove on down Washington Street to Nankeen Square at the South End where he had lived. Ever since the mistaken movement of society in that direction ceased, he had not built but had bought very cheap of a terrified gentleman of good extraction who discovered too late that the South End was not the thing and who in the eagerness of his flight to the Back Bay threw in his carpets and shades for almost nothing. Mrs Lapham was even better satisfied with their bargain than the Colonel himself and they had lived in Nankeen Square for twelve years. They had seen the saplings planted in the pretty oval round which the houses were built flourish up into sturdy young trees and their two little girls in the same period had grown into young ladies. The Colonel’s tough frame had expanded into the bulk which Bartley’s interview indicated and Mrs Lapham, while keeping a more youthful outline, showed the sharp print of the crow’s foot at the corners of her motherly eyes and certain slight creases in her wholesome cheeks. The fact that they lived in an unfashionable neighbourhood was something that they had never been made to feel to their personal disadvantage and they had hardly known it till the summer before this story opens when Mrs Lapham and her daughter Irene had met some other Bostonians far from Boston who made it memorable. They were people whom chance had brought for the time under a singular obligation to the Lapham ladies and they were gratefully recognisant of it. They had ventured a mother and two daughters as far as a rather wild little Canadian watering place on the St Lawrence below Quebec and had arrived some days before. Their son and brother was expected to join them. Two of their trunks had gone astray and, on the night of their arrival, the mother was taken violently ill. Mrs Lapham came to their help with her skill as nurse and with the abundance of her own and her daughter’s wardrobe and a profuse single-hearted kindness when a doctor could be got at. He said that but for Mrs Laphams timely care the lady would hardly have lived. He was a very effusive little Frenchman and fancied he was saying something very pleasant to everybody
Wordmatic:
quote:
After dropping Bartley Hubbard at the Events Building, Lapham drove on down Washington Street to Nankeen Square. At the South End, where he had lived ever since the mistaken movement of society in that direction ceased, he had not built, but had bought very cheap--of a terrified gentleman of good extraction who discovered too late that the South End was not the thing, and who, in the eagerness of his flight to the Back Bay, threw in his carpets and shades--for almost nothing.

Mrs. Lapham was even better satisfied with their bargain than the Colonel himself, and they had lived in Nankeen Square for twelve years. They had seen the saplings planted in the pretty oval, round which the houses were built, flourish up into sturdy young trees, and their two little girls, in the same period, had grown into young ladies. The Colonel's tough frame had expanded into the bulk which Bartley's interview indicated, and Mrs. Lapham, while keeping a more youthful outline, showed the sharp print of the crow's foot at the corners of her motherly eyes, and certain slight creases in her wholesome cheeks.

The fact that they lived in an unfashionable neighbourhood was something that they had never been made to feel to their personal disadvantage, and they had hardly known it, till the summer before this story opens, when Mrs. Lapham and her daughter Irene had met some other Bostonians far from Boston who made it memorable. They were people whom chance had brought for the time under a singular obligation to the Lapham ladies, and they were gratefully recognisant of it.

They had ventured, a mother and two daughters, as far as a rather wild little Canadian watering place on the St. Lawrence below Quebec, and had arrived some days before their son and brother was expected to join them. Two of their trunks had gone astray, and, on the night of their arrival, the mother was taken violently ill. Mrs. Lapham came to their help with her skill as nurse, and with the abundance of her own and her daughter's wardrobe--and a profuse single-hearted kindness. When a doctor could be got at, he said that, but for Mrs. Lapham's timely care, the lady would hardly have lived. He was a very effusive little Frenchman and fancied he was saying something very pleasant to everybody.
arnie:
quote:
After dropping Bartley Hubbard at the Events building, Lapham drove on down Washington Street to Nankeen Square at the South End, where he had lived ever since the mistaken movement of society in that direction ceased. He had not built but had bought very cheap of a terrified gentleman of good extraction who discovered too late that the South End was not the thing and who in the eagerness of his flight to the Back Bay threw in his carpets and shades for almost nothing.

Mrs Lapham was even better satisfied with their bargain than the Colonel himself and they had lived in Nankeen Square for twelve years; they had seen the saplings planted in the pretty oval round which the houses were built flourish up into sturdy young trees and their two little girls in the same period had grown into young ladies. The Colonel’s tough frame had expanded into the bulk which Bartley’s interview indicated, and Mrs Lapham, while keeping a more youthful outline, showed the sharp print of the crow’s foot at the corners of her motherly eyes and certain slight creases in her wholesome cheeks.

The fact that they lived in an unfashionable neighbourhood was something that they had never been made to feel to their personal disadvantage, and they had hardly known it till the summer before this story opens, when Mrs Lapham and her daughter Irene had met some other Bostonians far from Boston who made it memorable.

They were people whom chance had brought for the time under a singular obligation to the Lapham ladies and they were gratefully recognisant of it; they had ventured, a mother and two daughters, as far as a rather wild little Canadian watering place on the St Lawrence below Quebec, and had arrived some days before. Their son and brother was expected to join them. Two of their trunks had gone astray, and on the night of their arrival the mother was taken violently ill. Mrs Lapham came to their help with her skill as nurse and with the abundance of her own and her daughter’s wardrobe and a profuse single-hearted kindness.

When a doctor could be got at he said that but for Mrs Lapham’s timely care the lady would hardly have lived. He was a very effusive little Frenchman and fancied he was saying something very pleasant to everybody.
goofy:
quote:
After dropping Bartley Hubbard at the Events building, Lapham drove on down Washington Street to Nankeen Square at the South End where he had lived ever since the mistaken movement of society in that direction ceased. He had not built but had bought very cheap of a terrified gentleman of good extraction, who discovered too late that the South End was not the thing, and who in the eagerness of his flight to the Back Bay threw in his carpets and shades for almost nothing. Mrs Lapham was even better satisfied with their bargain than the Colonel himself, and they had lived in Nankeen Square for twelve years. They had seen the saplings planted in the pretty oval round which the houses were built flourish up into sturdy young trees, and their two little girls in the same period had grown into young ladies. The Colonel's tough frame had expanded into the bulk which Bartley's interview indicated, and Mrs Lapham, while keeping a more youthful outline, showed the sharp print of the crows foot at the corners of her motherly eyes and certain slight creases in her wholesome cheeks. The fact that they lived in an unfashionable neighbourhood was something that they had never been made to feel to their personal disadvantage, and they had hardly known it till the summer before this story opens, when Mrs Lapham and her daughter Irene had met some other Bostonians far from Boston, who made it memorable. They were people whom chance had brought for the time under a singular obligation to the Lapham ladies, and they were gratefully recognisant of it. They had ventured a mother and two daughters as far as a rather wild little Canadian watering place on the St Lawrence below Quebec, and had arrived some days before their son and brother was expected to join them. Two of their trunks had gone astray and on the night of their arrival the mother was taken violently ill. Mrs Lapham came to their help with her skill as nurse and with the abundance of her own and her daughters' wardrobe and a profuse single hearted kindness. When a doctor could be got at, he said that but for Mrs Lapham's timely care the lady would hardly have lived. He was a very effusive little Frenchman and fancied he was saying something very pleasant to everybody.
BobHale:
quote:
After dropping Bartley Hubbard at the Events building, Lapham drove on down Washington Street to Nankeen Square. At the South End — where he had lived ever since the mistaken movement of society in that direction ceased — he had not built, but had bought very cheap, of a terrified gentleman of good extraction who discovered too late that the South End was not the thing and who, in the eagerness of his flight to the Back Bay, threw in his carpets and shades for almost nothing. Mrs Lapham was even better satisfied with their bargain than the Colonel himself, and they had lived in Nankeen Square for twelve years. They had seen the saplings, planted in the pretty oval round which the houses were built, flourish up into sturdy young trees, and their two little girls in the same period had grown into young ladies. The Colonels tough frame had expanded into the bulk which Bartley's interview indicated, and Mrs Lapham, while keeping a more youthful outline, showed the sharp print of the crows foot at the corners of her motherly eyes and certain slight creases in her wholesome cheeks. The fact that they lived in an unfashionable neighbourhood was something that they had never been made to feel to their personal disadvantage, and they had hardly known it till the summer before this story opens, when Mrs Lapham and her daughter Irene had met some other Bostonians far from Boston, who made it memorable. They were people whom chance had brought for the time under a singular obligation to the Lapham ladies, and they were gratefully recognisant of it. They had ventured — a mother and two daughters — as far as a rather wild little Canadian watering place on the St Lawrence, below Quebec, and had arrived some days before their son and brother was expected to join them. Two of their trunks had gone astray and, on the night of their arrival, the mother was taken violently ill. Mrs Lapham came to their help with her skill as nurse and with the abundance of her own and her daughters wardrobe and a profuse, single-hearted kindness. When a doctor could be got at he said that but for Mrs Lapham's timely care the lady would hardly have lived. He was a very effusive little Frenchman and fancied he was saying something very pleasant to everybody.
Richard English:
quote:
After dropping Bartley Hubbard at the Events building, Lapham drove on down Washington Street to Nankeen Square at the South End, where he had lived ever since the mistaken movement of society in that direction ceased. He had not built but had bought very cheap of a terrified gentleman of good extraction, who discovered too late that the South End was not the thing, and who, in the eagerness of his flight to the Back Bay, threw in his carpets and shades for almost nothing.

Mrs Lapham was even better satisfied with their bargain than the Colonel himself and they had lived in Nankeen Square for twelve years. They had seen the saplings planted in the pretty oval, round which the houses were built, flourish up into sturdy young trees, and their two little girls in the same period had grown into young ladies.

The Colonel’s tough frame had expanded into the bulk which Bartley’s interview indicated, and Mrs Lapham, while keeping a more youthful outline, showed the sharp print of the crow’s foot at the corners of her motherly eyes and certain slight creases in her wholesome cheeks. The fact that they lived in an unfashionable neighbourhood was something that they had never been made to feel to their personal disadvantage and they had hardly known it till the summer before this story opens, when Mrs Lapham and her daughter Irene had met some other Bostonians, far from Boston, who made it memorable.

They were people whom chance had brought for the time under a singular obligation to the Lapham ladies and they were gratefully recognisant of it. They had ventured, a mother and two daughters, as far as a rather wild little Canadian watering place on the St Lawrence below Quebec, and had arrived some days before their son and brother was expected to join them. Two of their trunks had gone astray, and on the night of their arrival, the mother was taken violently ill. Mrs Lapham came to their help with her skill as nurse and with the abundance of her own and her daughter’s wardrobe, and a profuse single-hearted kindness. When a doctor could be got at he said that, but for Mrs Lapham’s timely care, the lady would hardly have lived. He was a very effusive little Frenchman and fancied he was saying something very pleasant to everybody!
William Dean Howell:
quote:
After dropping Bartley Hubbard at the Events building, Lapham drove on down Washington Street to Nankeen Square at the South End, where he had lived ever since the mistaken movement of society in that direction ceased. He had not built, but had bought very cheap of a terrified gentleman of good extraction who discovered too late that the South End was not the thing, and who in the eagerness of his flight to the Back Bay threw in his carpets and shades for almost nothing. Mrs. Lapham was even better satisfied with their bargain than the Colonel himself, and they had lived in Nankeen Square for twelve years. They had seen the saplings planted in the pretty oval round which the houses were built flourish up into sturdy young trees, and their two little girls in the same period had grown into young ladies; the Colonel's tough frame had expanded into the bulk which Bartley's interview indicated; and Mrs. Lapham, while keeping a more youthful outline, showed the sharp print of the crow's-foot at the corners of her motherly eyes, and certain slight creases in her wholesome cheeks. The fact that they lived in an unfashionable neighbourhood was something that they had never been made to feel to their personal disadvantage, and they had hardly known it till the summer before this story opens, when Mrs. Lapham and her daughter Irene had met some other Bostonians far from Boston, who made it memorable. They were people whom chance had brought for the time under a singular obligation to the Lapham ladies, and they were gratefully recognisant of it. They had ventured--a mother and two daughters--as far as a rather wild little Canadian watering-place on the St. Lawrence, below Quebec, and had arrived some days before their son and brother was expected to join them. Two of their trunks had gone astray, and on the night of their arrival the mother was taken violently ill. Mrs. Lapham came to their help, with her skill as nurse, and with the abundance of her own and her daughter's wardrobe, and a profuse, single-hearted kindness. When a doctor could be got at, he said that but for Mrs. Lapham's timely care, the lady would hardly have lived. He was a very effusive little Frenchman, and fancied he was saying something very pleasant to everybody.
It is the first paragraph of the second chapter of The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885).


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Oh, heck, I missed this. I've been on deadline for an article submission and have been missing in action on Wordcraft.

What sticks out the most to me is that some have divided it into paragraphs, while others haven't (including the original author). That is quite interesting because in the author's guidelines for this article I was writing, they gave strict directions to write "short" paragraphs. I found myself splitting sentences that I hadn't wanted to split. I wish I would have done the experiment.
 
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I suspect that paragraphs are more commonly-used these days. Certainly the practice in most newspapers of using short paragraphs has prepared my eyes to expect them.

I feel sure that, had William Dean Howell written his novel a century later, he would have used more paragraphs.


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Well, given zmj's directions, I know I wouldn't have made more than one paragraph because he talked about the punctuating the "paragraph." I suppose it's my literalism, once again,
 
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I saw that it was only one paragraph in the original, but decided to split it to make it more readable by modern eyes.


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Makes sense, arnie. I do think it needs splitting. I'm just saying that I probably wouldn't have even thought of it.
 
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So, zmj, what did you make of the experiment? Does it seem to prove that we don't need a lot of punctuation to understand the meaning of the text? I think it does, because all of us broke the sentences in nearly the same places, though I was the only one who seemed to think that Lapham had bought the entire house for almost nothing, whereas the author only meant that the previous owner had thrown in the carpets and shades for almost nothing!

Wordmatic
 
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I think the experiment has proved that, when done by competent people, punctuation is a significant aid to clarity and understanding.

I suspect that no proof is needed for the opposite - punctuation incompetently done will reduce clarity.


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what did you make of the experiment?

Well, I did not need it proved to me, but herre's what I took away. Everybody was able to pick out sentences and put in the periods where they belonged. Also, commas showed up pretty much where they belonged and so did apostrophes. The semicolon and em-dashes did not fare so well. The sentences were obvious from the syntax of the text and the overall meaning of the text. Compared with the intentionally ambiguously written text that BobHale asked people to punctuate--there are two completely different texts there--it was rather easy to punctuate this text, as I had assumed it to be. Punctuation is a good thing, though its use is anything but necessary. Others will no doubt disagree as they have started to already.


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By coincidence, today I came across the following piece of prose on a classic car site. It is, of course, quite possible to work out what the writer means - but how much nicer would it have been had it been decently punctuated.

i have for sale very reluctantly my vw camper tax exempt i will be as honest as i can be right the good bits its got 11months mot and taxed till july2010 its had new brake discs new brake pipes new pads and shoes its got toad alarm its had new wheel arch and step drivers side new inner and outer sils new outriggers jacking points rocknroll bed no end float engine is a recone done 28ooo ish i use the bus everyday its got a devon poptop starts on the button first time its sanded down and primered ready for respray ohh new shocks all round a folder full of reciepts from me and previous owners all old mots really it is a good bus been to all the shows and recently just got back from cornwall in her right the bad bits the passenger side wheel arch and step needs doing thats it reason for selling lost my job recently its gonna kill me to sell her but circumstances out of my hands dont take this as ill be a push overwith the price because i wont thanks £5000.00 or very nearest offer px considered

It's clearly just my prejudice that makes me feel so, but I would not feel happy even to open dealings with this vendor; if he can't take the trouble to write with due and proper consideration to his readers, then how much consideration will he have for a buyer?


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but how much nicer would it have been had it been decently punctuated

I'm not arguing that punctuation should be gotten rid of, although I would suggest that it (as well as English orthography) could be improved on. Writing and punctuation are good things. Redundancy in language is a good thing. I am just disagreeing on how important punctuation is. It's not very.

I would not feel happy even to open dealings with this vendor; if he can't take the trouble to write with due and proper consideration to his readers, then how much consideration will he have for a buyer?

It's my just my opinion, but it is likely the person who wrote this is incapable of following the norms of usage. OTOH, it is a long standing trick of the trade to purposefully downgrade one's writing to make the reader assume a lack of education and guile. (Although, in this case, I think it's probably just a matter of (lack of) education.


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quote:
its got toad alarm

I was able to make sense of most of that, but do camper vans really need alarms against toads? Eek


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do camper vans really need alarms against toads?

I'd never heard of them before, too, but they seem to be a firm that manufactures car alarms (link).


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alarms against toads

They get pretty big in Australia.


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I'd not heard of Toad Alarms previously but, having looked at the link and read this piece of unedifying prose, I suspect that their copywriter and the advertiser must have had the same English teacher!

Fitting a regular car alarm to a short or long wheelbase motorhome's is never recommended because the security requirements for motorhome's should include the occupants safety whilst occupying the vehicle, their possessions in external luggage compartments or left inside the cab and living quarters. In all cases ease of use has been designed together with a fail safe procedure to over-ride the systems in the event of an emergency.


Richard English
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Proofreader:
quote:
alarms against toads

They get pretty big in Australia.

That might explain it. We get a lot of Aussies making a trip to England during a gap year or similar. They'll bring a camper van overland from Oz, and then sell it to raise the fare back home at the end of the trip. Apparently their vans are often in slightly better condition than the British ones since the drier Australian climate means there is less likelihood of rust. They have the steering wheel on the correct side, too. Wink


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The one this man was advertising was in nearly as bad condition as was his writing.

Interestingly, with VW vans, the oldest ones - those with the split windscreen - sell for quite obscene sums of money; the later ones - with the bow front - sell for merely huge sums and the last of the rear-engined ones - with the wedge-shaped front - sell only for a high price - a 30-year old one would sell for around about what you'd pay for a new small saloon car.

The one being advertised here was a bow-fronted model of 1972, and the price demanded was £5,000.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Richard English,


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£5,000

Supply and demand.


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quote:
Compared with the intentionally ambiguously written text that BobHale asked people to punctuate--there are two completely different texts there--it was rather easy to punctuate this text, as I had assumed it to be. Punctuation is a good thing, though its use is anything but necessary. Others will no doubt disagree as they have started to already.

Yes, Bob's was completely different, I agree. However, surely the takeaway from yours is that often punctuation is not that necessary in understanding written communication. Bob's, though, shows that sometimes it is.
 
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