I was going to write a post about punctuation. It got away from me. Repeatedly.
So just quickly what got me on the subject: pauses.
If people wrote with pedantic perfection there would be no way to mark a pause other than writing "pause" or "there was a pause here" or something like that.
The ellipsis is supposed to denote omissions. Thus
"I was . . . doing . . . things."
is in pedantic perfection land a way to write "I was [snip] doing [snip] things," and not a way to write "I was" pause "doing" pause "things."
I'm all for the "Fuck That" position and in fact I never use a bare ellipsis to mark omission for fear that it will be confused for a pause. If I want to mark omission I bracket my ellipses (e.g. [...].)
The closest I come to bare ellipsis for omission is using it as a fade in/fade out thing in certain quotes:
". . . [quoted words go here] . . ."
But my point here is not that it's wonderful that the English writing world, apparently as a whole, appears to be saying, "Fuck correct usage, we need a way to mark pauses," but rather that the ellipsis is the only pause marker in our punctuation and it's not intended to be used as such.
That's . . . a massive fucking oversight.
The only other punctuation mark that can be argued to deal with pacing at all is the semicolon when it's used to conjoin sentences. This argument can be disputed, but generally it's probably safe to assume that in the following examples
I ate it. It was good.
I ate it; it was good.
There's a shorter pause between the two "it"s in the second example than in the first.
* * *
Why does this matter to me? It fucks me up, constantly.
Most pauses are not actually long enough to justify an ellipsis, but they still matter (to me at least.)
Consider this delivery of this sentence:
"Tara stood there for a while" no pause "and she decided to stay" short pause "and listen" end stop.
You can't write that with proper English punctuation.
Properly punctuated the sentence is this:
Tara stood there for a while, and she decided to stay and listen.
The comma is used to separate the two halves of the compound sentence, it is not used to separate the two verbs that share a subject. Thus there's a comma where the pause isn't and no marker of any kind of where the pause is.
The only thing I can think of would be to steal from poetry and add a caesura, though as a purely notational point, I tend to use the musical symbol (//) rather than the poetic one (||).
So then we get:
Tara stood there for a while, and she decided to stay // and listen.
But there's still no indication you're not supposed to pause at the comma and . . . I've got no fucking clue what to do with that.
One thought was to have a "skip over this" arrow. There is not in fact a "skip over this" combing character, so I have no idea if this will display correctly on a computer other than my own.
"Tara stood there for a while , ↷ and she decided to stay // and listen."
Another thought was that in informal English writing we've developed a pause shortener that might, possibly, be able to be used as a diacritic.
We recognize that:
She said, "Oh-my-god-it's-so-good-to-see-you."
is meant to be taken as spoken quickly to the point of at least partially omitting the usual pause between words that we'd assume if we read:
She said, "Oh my god, it's so good to see you."
We thus have a situation where adding a mark (putting the "-" into what was empty space) means that the pace is moving more quickly than would be assumed without the mark. And, yes, we can find a combining dash to give us ",̵ ".
Though it's worth noting that the combining dash used here actually sticks out a bit. As a simple example, if I stick a line "|" after it, where we might expect a space like there is between a normal dash and a a line "-|" the two meld " ̵|". That same sticking out eats a following space, so in the example below there are actually two spaces after dashed comma:
Tara stood there for a while,̵ and she decided to stay // and listen.
That's something that it would take a lot of getting used to. Another option would be to omit the following space to mark the lack of pause:
Tara stood there for a while,and she decided to stay // and listen.
Which looks like a typo.
Which is sort of the point. Nothing is going to look right because the punctuation marks I've been raised with are completely ill-equipped to deal with something as simple as "there's not a fucking pause here so don't pause."
Nor are they equipped to mark any pause smaller than ". . .".
It's fucked up.
And here's what usually ends up happening. I think:
"Tara stood there for a while" no pause "and she decided to stay" short pause "and listen" end stopand write
Tara stood there for a while and she decided to stay, and listen.
which is wrong in two ways. There's a comma where one doesn't belong, and there isn't one where one does belong.
In my one professional story I think my tendency to do that sort of thing drove the editor to tears.