MAD DOG: Are we@the end of punctuation as we know it?!

Punctuation's a nice thing. Well, it used to be, anyway."Sure, that's easy for you to say. You make your living using punctuation," you're thinking as you remember your third-grade teacher trying to drum it through your head that a semi-colon connects independent clauses. Or was that dependent clauses? "It's true, but if it wasn't for punctuation we'd have nothing to break up those run-on sentences, set off a series of thoughts, or show that we're excited!!!!!! But nowadays punctuation and its kissing cousin, symbols, are being usurped and changed for very nonpunctuational reasons.Yes, we all know that English is a living language. Unlike Latin, Mayan, and French, we believe in adding new words. The difference is this time around it's not common usage that's changing the language, it's technology.It started with the telephone. In the early days it was easy—you picked up the phone and talked to Thomas Watson, since he was the only other person who had a telephone. Then came the dial phone, with its letters and numbers. When they created the Touch-tone phone, for some reason they decided to add two symbols, the * and the #.They probably did this because there were an odd number of keys and they wanted a balanced layout. What they should have added were the ! and the ?. At least these would have made it fun to talk to someone and hit a button to emphasize what you just said. "I'm serious! *BEEP*" would have relayed a lot.But that's not what they did. And as if that wasn't bad enough, they changed the name of the symbols. The * used to be an asterisk, but now it's a star. Is it any wonder children all over the country think they're singing about a telephone when they sing "Twinkle, twinkle, little star"? This puts it right up there with the inability to know what clockwise means as one of the great losses of the digital age.The other thing they added to the telephone is the #. This was little used, and may not even be a punctuation mark if you want to get technical about it, but you occasionally saw it used in place of the word "number" or to indicate pounds. Well, they took the ‘s' away and turned it into the pound sign, as in "Pound your fist into the phone if you're stuck in voicemail hell and don't want to hang up because you already have 17 minutes invested in this long distance call."Computers have screwed with punctuation marks. The good old period (.) is now a dot, as in wherearethex-ratedpictures.com. The Wall Street Journal ("All the news that doesn't fit in a stock market table") says companies are switching from the hyphen to the period for their phone numbers, so 415-664-5555 becomes 415.664.5555. They claim this is being done because it's cool and is an offshoot of the dots used in computer addresses, but the truth is the Europeans have been doing this since before Bill Gates bought out his first competitor, so let's be honest about it: we're finally figuring out that panache isn't a candy.Of course, there's no question you can blame the Internet for co-opting @. Hell, no one ever used it anyway. Most people had no idea what it was, when to use it, or what to call it. Every once in a while you'd see it used to indicate "at", as in: 1 unused symbol @ $30 apiece = a bargain.Well it's been upgraded again, from part of an email address to part of advertising. @Home is the name of a cable Internet company. The Gap is running ads that say Gap@work. This sounds like a conspiracy @ila the Hun would dream up, not those @aché carrying ad geeks with @itude who couldn't find @lanta in an @las.(On a related topic, I have two simple words for those people who have taken to saying "dub, dub, dub" in place of www: Stop it. Now. It's not cool, it's not cute, and it sounds like you're doing a fish imitation. Okay, I won't carp on this anymore.)I expect people will steal other punctuation marks. Of course, there are a few they could take and no one would notice. The colon is one, since no one other than Edwin Newman knows how to use it anyway. And the semicolon, which nobody cares about because it's only half a punctuation mark.Why don't they take the &? No one knows what it's called, better yet bothers to use it. (HINT: It's an ampersand.) They've already appropriated the ~, which is okay since they pretty well made it up. Sure it existed before the Internet, but it wasn't on any keyboard I used.Even better, why don't they just make up a few of their own? We could use a few more squiggles on this Earth. Now there's an @ractive idea.

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