Archives For Cartography

punctuation personalitiesWordsmiths love wordplay.

In fact, they love to toy with everything related to language, including punctuation. The entertaining illustration to the left was created by Carrie Keplinger and inspired me to produce my own supplement to her study.

The idea behind the graphic is to play on the meaning of different punctuation symbols and describe the type of personality they represent.

I took the notion a step further, and based some of my psychological diagnoses on the appearance of the images themselves. I also fudged a bit and included a couple that are common symbols, albeit not punctuation.

In the past I’ve shared here my fascination with fonts. This extends to pictographic languages like Egypt’s hieroglyphs. Consider this example:


One may not know this particular image is associated with the Egyptian god Horus, but it’s immediately apparent it represents a familiar part of human anatomy.*

If you find the subject of hieroglyphics interesting, you may enjoy reading this article I recently discovered. The author briefly compares the thought of C.S. Lewis with that of the ancient philosopher Plotinus. He writes:

The Hieroglyphs are visible mirrors of the invisible, to use Jean-Luc Marion’s language, the recognition of which brings immediate awareness and experience of meaning rather than strict syllogistic definition. For Lewis, “thinking along” cannot be reduced to concepts.

For Plotinus, Nature cannot be reduced to analysis. As Marion says, when faced with the visible mirror of the invisible one must look beyond the physical and experience the infinite gaze. Although the sunbeam is a physical reality I think it is a great example of “looking along” because it stirs us up to contemplate Beauty itself. Indeed God is Beauty for Lewis and for Plotinus (though not the Christian God for the latter).

Returning to the Subject of Punctuation

Punctuation is a fundamental tool of writers. And, like the broader subject of grammar, it is incumbent on us to do our best to use it properly.

“Improper” usage is not necessarily wrong, however. On numerous occasions we may intentionally make an “error” to achieve a specific purpose. Or, we may object to certain conventions and challenge the ever-evolving status quo. For example, I avoided unnecessarily capitalizing “internet” long before it became acceptable. I also dropped the hyphen from email, etc. prior to that becoming fashionable.**

Naturally, when we are seeking publication of our work, we need to conform to whatever stylistic standards the venue follows. However, in our “personal” writing, I long ago learned there is no value in being enslaved to “official” literary conventions. After all, these seemingly rigid rules themselves are fluid, shifting with ever more frequent speed.

I began with the declaration that lovers of words inherently enjoy wordplay. I certainly do. One evidence of that is found below, in my supplemental list to the chart at the top of this column.

Immediately upon reading “punctuation social personalities,” my own mind, unbidden, began to consider additions. A moment later I had pen in hand, and the rest is history.

Belated Warning: You may experience a similar irresistible response. 

punctuation personalities 2


* A variation of the eye of Horus is actually found on American currency . . . at the peak of the pyramid that adorns the one dollar bill. (It’s officially called the “Eye of Providence,” but its association with the pyramid makes that title rather unconvincing.) It is actually reproduced on America’s money because it is found on the reverse of Great Seal of the United States. Yes, it’s portrayed on the hidden side of the extremely familiar eagle clutching an olive branch and arrows that we see all of the time.

** I’m not suggesting I am a trendsetter . . . merely that I anticipated the eventual elimination of these superfluous elements early on. Well, it’s due to that prediction combined with my own typographical prejudices, such as disliking the over-hyphenation of the English language.

“That’s the worst of girls,” said Edmund to Peter and the Dwarf. “They never can carry a map in their heads.”

“That’s because our heads have something inside them,” said Lucy. (C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian).

It seems that if an author wishes to alienate vast swaths of readers today, they need do no more than “generalize.” Thus, C.S. Lewis has received unjust criticism due to some passages such as this.

To make a judgment such as Edmund’s leaves unmentioned the implied fact that there are, indeed, many useful things that are manifestly present in the heads of girls. But this example of difficulty in reading maps refers to a common perception . . . and if you’ve never heard it voiced before you read it here, you have led a shockingly sheltered life.

No one believes that there are no women capable of defeating even well-trained men in rigorous navigational competitions. Likewise, I have no doubt there are many gifted female cartographers. But please reseal the tar barrel and restuff the pillows; Lewis’ use of this dialog is not intended to be offensive!

I long for the days when a reader gave the writer the proverbial “benefit of the doubt.” A time when our assumption was that they meant something other than the meaning which offended us . . . or, at least, that they intended no malice.

I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but in most of the United States, such days of literary curtesy are long behind us. Today we often read things with an eye to finding the “problem” (ignorance, prejudice, or political viewpoint foreign to our own).

My wife and I attempted to raise our children with critical minds. (Critical in the best sense of the word.) We taught them that there are absolute truths. We informed them that, while people are entitled to hold to all sorts of notions and beliefs, that fact does not make the contending concepts “true.”

At the same time, we did our best to teach our children to respect others. To recognize that all human beings are created in the image of God. To understand that not even the basest man or woman is beyond redemption and restoration.

One practical element of this education in basic virtues took the shape of an adage we taught our kids. I’m sure others have advised this throughout history, and that many have voiced it far more eloquently, but we simply said: Judge everyone and everything by their best cases, rather than their worst.

In practice, this would mean that when a teenager compliments his dad on his wisdom, the dad does not immediately assume his prodigy is attempting to manipulate him. Now, further conversation and “investigation” may certainly prove that manipulation is indeed the goal, but it should not be the very first suspicion of the father.

As a pastor, one of your greatest challenges (and joys) comes in the pulpit. One major difficulty is discussing some extremely complex subjects in a relatively brief period of time. Pastors sometimes lapse into a sort of theological shorthand—which can be confusing or troubling to those unfamiliar with the underlying presuppositions. Taken out of context, individual statements may sound strange, or even heterodox.

I have always encouraged the members of my congregations and (especially) visitors to specifically ask me about what was meant by any statement or phrase that left them uneasy. It is no exaggeration to say that 98% of the time, that has cleared the air in and of itself, as I’ve had an opportunity to elaborate and clarify. (Of course, the other 2% of the occasions constitute a second pastoral “joy.”)

It saddens me when I hear people berate C.S. Lewis for a handful of passages that critics deem to be misogynistic or racist. They fail to extend toward him the goodwill he strove to offer to others. Most of these very few passages can simply be explained by the age in which he lived. It is disingenuous to judge by today’s standards someone who died a half century ago.

Like Lewis’ peers (and, in fact, all human beings), on occasion Lewis himself generalized. Let those who have never done the same cast the first stone. I confess that I’m guilty of it. In fact, returning to the quotation with which we began, I could most definitely echo Edmund’s words in reference to my wife. Ironically, they would be utterly inaccurate in reference to my daughter. For many years she was my “official navigator” as our family often drove across country (relying upon those seven foot by seven foot paper maps that are nearly impossible to refold.)

So, in my own nuclear family I’m batting .500 in terms of the accuracy of this generalization. The next generation may decide. Four of my six grandchildren are girls, and since the oldest girl just turned five, it’s about time to set them out in the woods with a map and a compass to see how they do!