The Nipper is learning punctuation. They were studying periods, exclamation points, and question marks in class. He told us they have hand signals for each one (they clap for an exclamation point, raise their eyebrows and touch their chins for a question mark, and they hold their hands out in front of them, palms facing away, for a full stop (and they say “errrrrch”)). But he was a little confused why they’re all considered terminal punctuation.
I told him its because a period, otherwise known as a full stop, is just that. It’s a full stop. It stops the words from tumbling all over the page pell-mell, coming to a big heap at the bottom where no one can suss them out. Because words, you know, have energy, and when nobody’s watching, they’ll just skitter across a page if there’s nothing at the end of a sentence to keep them in their own yards. He didn’t believe me, so I showed him a book of poetry with left-justified pages in some places and right-justified pages in others, and some weird shape poetry.
“So,” I told him, “punctuation that ends sentences always has to have a full stop. An exclamation point is a full stop that’s really excited. It jumps up and down and leaves this weird line above it. You can always tell when words are meant to be excited or exciting if there’s a jumping full stop at the end.”
“Ohhhhhh,” he said. “That makes sense. But what about a question mark?”
“Ah. Sometimes, full stops get confused, and they wander around a bit looking for the answer. The sentences in front of them ask the questions for them.”
“*I* get it!” He cried, then commenced walking in vaguely question-mark shaped patterns around the bedroom. “With a question mark, the period kind of walks around wondering where he’s left his shoes!”
“Yes, that’s it precisely,” I said.
And that is why question marks always go barefoot.