REVIEW: ‘Punctuation…?’ makes a better comma-geek gift than everyday reference

A copy editor vexed by whether the use of a semicolon is correct may feel intimidated by resorting, to, say, “Fowler’s English Usage”; better to use “Woe Is I,” perhaps, but still, wouldn’t a really quick, succinct little book find a valued place on that desk?’


Such is the theory of “Punctuation..?” –  a book credited to “User design,” which itself is credited to Thomas Bohm. Bohm and his Leicester, England, firm – which appears to be Bohm – specialize in designing books, websites, and graphic elements, and also offer copy editing (excuse me, subediting) and proofreading services.

User design has published three books, two of which appear to be Bohm essaying in his own write, with illustrations and (sometimes) words describing, for example, “one day in the life of somebody.”

While that may make him a lucky man who made the grade, his book of immediate interest to copy editors presents a different conundrum, somewhat like the old ad for children’s laxative vs. prunes – “Are six enough? Is eight too many?”

For the specialists (us), a basic guide to the use of punctuation can be too general to be really useful. For example, five examples to cover the uses of the comma may be noteworthy in sidestepping the never-ending debate over the Oxford comma – perhaps in Britain there is also a Cambridge comma – but is probably not going to answer the sort of question to which a copy editor would resort to a reference anyway.

For the most part, these are the known knowns.

That said, many people whom we edit could benefit from the basics of what we know, if we had a way to make them know it. And “Punctuation..?,” with its whimsical, drawn-out drama illustrations in User design’s distinctive style, could provide an answer.

Alas, America and the U.K. remain separated by a  language, and unless your stylebook would allow a reference to Mr. Bohm as Mr Bohm, there’s just enough in here that doesn’t work in the colonies to make this book one that you already have to know what it’s talking about to know what it’s talking about. Period, er, full stop. (And this is a strange deficiency, in that at other points it elucidates differences between Brits and Yanks. But not enough of them.)

Nevertheless, if you are the sort of punctuation geek who might have interrobanged yourself after “Shady Characters” by Keith Houston was published in 2013, you’ll want this book as well. I have never before known what a Guillemet is, even though any reader en Francais, auf Deutsch, etc. would easily be able to quote them. (Not only that, but why Guillemets are called Guillemets.) And it easily explains the logic behind the (for Americans) basically mystifying question of why British style is to not use a full st… er, period after an honorific. That’s something happening that you do want to know why it is, don’t you, Mr Jones.

So – an amusing and at times useful addition to your typographical library if you have one. (And of greater use if you are editing for British publications.) An interesting gift for the copy editor on your list, yes. A basic reference? Probably not.

In the U.S., “Punctuation..?” is available from that big online company that’s now associated with the Washington Post.