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Saturday, March 5, 2005

JAPAN LITE

Get! Strunk & White's punctuation soup


The Japanese have some unique ways of learning English. Did you know, for example, that you can learn English from animal crackers? Yes, animal crackers in Japan have English names on them, presumably to provide an educational aspect to snacks. Talk about forcing the language down our throats! Perhaps it is thought that if you eat English, it will be stored inside the body for regurgitation at a later date. It makes you wonder, then, why they stop at animals. Insect or reptile crackers would be just as fun.

At any rate, these animal crackers seem to also be an attempt to increase the IQ. The next time you meet a child brought up on Japanese animal crackers, ask him if he can recognize a "pea fowl" or a "tapir." And how about an "M. duck" or a "horn owl"?

By all means, do not tell the Japanese about Campbell's alphabet soup or they'll import it by the case and call it "romaji soup." I imagine entire noodles with whole words and sentences on them, or cans with enough letters to spell any animal in the universe. And surely you would be able to buy two different kinds: uppercase romaji soup and lowercase romaji soup. And why stop there? We could practice the English language by conversing with our soup.

As an English teacher myself, and one who spent too much time on theory in college and not enough time on practical skills such as wrestling pens out of ESL students' hands, I think what Campbell's is really missing out on is a further chance to educate the Japanese in the English language. After all, most Japanese already know the alphabet. Therefore, I think the next type of soup to offer -- by prescription only from English teachers -- should be "punctuation soup."

I've tried correcting students' punctuation mistakes in the traditional way, but the only thing so far that has been effective in preventing recurring errors is to send the students to bed without dinner. I'd feel much better if I could send them home with homework to eat punctuation soup. And surely they'd have a better chance of waking up in the morning with perfect punctuation.

This ESL soup for Japanese people would come with the following label on the can: "Strunk & White's punctuation soup! Learn all about punctuation by ingesting it."

The major point about punctuation is the exclamation point. Most people use far too many. Use only one after a word or sentence. An exclamation point should never ever follow certain words, such as the Japanese-English word "get!" Like the yellow caution sign on the side of the road that has one, and only one exclamation point, this is punctuation at its finest: straight and to the point.

Resist the urge to write people's names in all capital letters. THIS IS JUST ANNOYING! STOP IT!!!!!!!!!

Do not question the next mark: the question mark. The question mark only follows a question, not a thought or a possible spelling error. Get! It?

Colons must not colonize the page: Keep them to a minimum. Semicolons even more so; one or two per page is plenty.

The phrase "et cetera" is not to be used with lists of hobbies, friends' names, etc. The word implies a list of like things, such as barnyard animals, as in "horses, cows, etc."

An "em dash" is just that -- there is no ess dash, ell dash or oh dash.

The ellipsis is an omission of . . .

The period should be a mere dot, not a full circle as written in Japanese. Punctuation should be pure and simple, period!

Lastly, punctuation does not include doodles, stickers, sparklies or pictures of Hello Kitty or Miffy.

After an entire semester of steady diet of punctuation soup, you should be ready to move on to the next flavor: The Oxford English Dictionary chunky soup. Order by the case only.

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