Crime and Punctuation

I have returned, not without a little reluctance, to the ongoing process of re-editing the articles in my temporarily static journal Underneath the Bunker. Why such reluctance? It is, alas, as I have mentioned on previous occasions, on account of the seemingly endless parade of errors I encounter every time I set foot on the old website. One edits once, one edits twice, one edits thrice: still the mistakes get through. Grammar, spelling, sense – there is no end, it seems, to the soul-crushing chaos. I could claim that it isn’t all my fault: I could blame my cack-handed contributors, for instance, or my imperfect proof-readers. Ultimately, however, an editor needs to stand up for his or herself: to confess their countless sins and make clear their intentions to right all careless wrongs.

It’s funny how sensitive one can become to these small errors; these piddling crimes of punctuation. I recall the late great Johannes Speyer writing a romantic letter to one of his many female followers. Two hours after passing the note over to the lady in question he burst into her house and demanded she return it. ‘Why so?’ she squealed (or so he claimed). ‘I have just remembered a small error I made,’ he replied, seizing the letter from her dainty little hands and rushing out of the room. Minutes later he reappeared, replacing the once-offending missive into her quivering palms. She looked down to see that he had crossed out a semi-colon and inserted in its place a comma. ‘I couldn’t bear for you to think of me as the kind of man who would misuse a semi-colon’ he said, before leaping through the open window and trampling on her flower beds.

Like the majority of Speyer’s love affairs, this one was not meant to be. Granted, the girl was never to think of him as the kind of man who would misuse a semi-colon, but she was to think of him as a selfish, four-timing, flower-bed trampler. Still: this was fine by him. So long as the love letters were appropriately punctuated, it didn’t much matter what came of them.

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