And the punctuation marks are convoluting the arguments

Art by Ariana Maralit

It is mayhem on Roxas Boulevard and, with all the blind love trying to one up the blind hate, the Exclamation Point is all over the place.

“!!!” scream the detractors of the errant white sand.

“!!!!” its adherents scream back.

To which, the detractors remonstrate, “!!!!!”

And so on and so forth. Neither the adherents nor the detractors keep in mind that one Exclamation Point suffices and that two of them in a sentence are a crowd.

Even one Exclamation Point is too many in a sentence that wishes to convey something important effectively and with sobriety. Too emotional, unable to control its feelings, the Exclamation Point has no place in a political discourse or in the statement of facts, let alone in formal writing.

Left with no other recourse, the Exclamation Point preens like a peacock. After all no other punctuation mark can express such strong emotions as surprise, excitement or amusement, remorse or denial, extreme disappointment, anguish, or anger, as much as it can.

Besides, straightening its line with the dot under it like a peacock spreading its tail, the Exclamation Point reminds the audience that “!!!” are a sincerity code in the language of the young as expressed along with emojis on social media, where the triple exclamation point is generally understood as the equivalent of “really” or “truly.”

Social media, bah.By the way, adverbs are only needed when the verbs cannot do the job.

Enough, but the Exclamation Point, humiliated, is taken over by the Comma, which calls for a time out in the verbal warfare. “Ceasefire,” it says, trying not to sound imperious and therefore dispensing with the more urgent, more domineering Exclamation Point, which has been booted out of the beach party.

But with the Comma, things aren’t as innocent as they seem. Their mere absence or presence can convolute sentences.

Be that as it may, the Comma seizes the opportunity to exercise its power. Without it, how to create rhythm by suggesting a pause in a sentence? Without it, how to separate ideas in a sentence? How to separate items, say, on a list of grievances against the dolomite sand on Manila Bay—the possible dangers of inhaling dolomite dust, the cost of the project, the insensitivity of the timing, the disruption of the habitat of an endangered bird species where the dolomite was mined, and the permit to mine dolomite in Cebu without consulting and coordinating with the local government, among other things.

And of course, the hard-comma Em-Dash is pulled into the fracas to introduce such a long list of gripes against the dolomitization of the banks of Manila Bay. Less formal than the Colon, it is also less likely to put on airs. Maybe this is why not a lot of writers put it to good use.

Longer than the En-dash and three times as long as the Hyphen, the Em-Dash is so versatile it can do the work of the Comma, the Parenthesis, and, as illustrated in the list of grumbles, the Colon.

Use the Em-Dash in place of the opening and closing Parentheses to insert a parenthetic thought in a sentence, that is if Parentheses are too hard a break.

Here’s an example: It’s paradise for Barcelona tourism, but Barceloneta—like the much-ballyhooed Manila Bay—is a fake beach.

Use the Em-Dash in place of opening and closing commas to indicate a sudden break or interruption, especially if you wish to highlight the break. Use it to enclose a word, a phrase, or a clause that breaks up the sentence to provide additional, often dramatic information, like a thought within a thought.

Here’s how: As a direct result of uncontrolled sand mining, some islands—at least 24 small islands in Indonesia since 2005—have vanished.

The Colon displays a stiff upper lip, having taken note of how it has served its purpose, introducing the two examples for the usage of the Em-Dash as its less intimidating alternative. But too formal to engage in a low-brow debate, with its chin up, the Colon leaves the confrontation, bumping into the Question Mark as it storms into the site intent to probe deep beneath the surface of the sand debate.

“Haven’t you heard that the Department of Health has pronounced that dolomite isn’t a health hazard?” So begins the Question Mark’s line of questioning. “In place of this sand, however fake, do you prefer garbage, sludge, chemicals, the detritus of the restaurants that have been shuttered as a result of this comprehensive rehabilitation of Manila Bay? Aren’t you relieved that, for once, we are doing something worthy of this jewel of the city?”

Although it is more concerned in distinguishing itself from the Dashes and the Minus Sign, particularly in its function of connecting words as a single modifier, the Hyphen is the first to answer. “But it is a 389-million-peso project on a 500-meter-long strip of shoreline. That is a lot of money that could have gone to taxpayers suffering from this six-month-long pandemic?”

The Brackets, armed with their issues [on technicalities] chime in, “All we want is a detailed accounting of where all that money goes.” Giving the Parenthesis a long side glance, it adds, “Note that it is our business to provide technical [not merely additional] information to clarify meaning.”

Periods are the best. They leave nothing to chance.

“We have enough of omissions. We are tired of having to fill in the blanks, to bridge the gaps, to plug in the holes, to…” lament the Ellipses, whose three dots, thrice as weary as they confess to be, represent details deemed unnecessary.

Seeing how they are present in every point of view, apropos to the importance of the matter at hand, the Quotation Marks decide to quote a song, David Byrne’s “Order 1081,” “Now the sunsets are incredible across Manila Bay.”

But like fuel to fire, like salt on a wound, the mention of Manila’s glorious sunsets, that magnificent tug-of-war between light and dark, between day and night, between two opposites, furthers the division.

Not all Punctuation Marks have been given the floor, not the En-Dash, not the Semi-Colon, which is really just a comma in a skirt, but the Exclamation Points are back with a vengeance, dominating the discussion yet again.

There is no end to the confrontation. And there is no telling who is right and who is wrong, with everyone raising points that, at the very least, sound valid.

Meanwhile, the sun is dipping down the horizon on Manila Bay, its golden light bouncing off the surface of the crushed dolomite.

The war of words must reach an end.

So comes the Period.

Source: Manila Bulletin (