From the lowly comma to the flamboyant ampersand, National Punctuation Day on September 24 celebrates the punctuation that makes our words legible and gets our point across. “Let’s eat, Grandma!” or “Let’s eat Grandma!” — it’s clear that punctuation saves lives. Though you might not have consciously considered punctuation since elementary school, you likely use it every day. Every year, the creator of the holiday sets a punctuation challenge, and punctuation quizzes and games can be found all over the country.
History of National Punctuation Day
Minding your p’s and q’s, dotting your t’s, crossing your i’s, and knowing the difference between a colon and a semicolon was not always necessary to communicate. While today we take for granted the little dots, slashes, and spaces that turn a string of unintelligible letters into a compelling story, ancient cultures had to make do without. Since most early languages were purely verbal, punctuation was not necessary.
The earliest-known document featuring punctuation is the Mesha Stele from 900 B.C. The next civilization to start to develop rudimentary punctuation was the Greeks, in 200 B.C. Though they had previously written in ‘scriptura continua,’ or unending strings of text unmarred by punctuation marks, people soon started to adopt the system of punctuation created by Aristophanes of Byzantium. This included a single punctuation mark positioned differently to indicate pauses in speeches.
Though punctuation had already been adopted by the Greeks, it wasn’t until the Bible began to be printed en masse that punctuation spread to other civilizations. Bible printing was widespread between 400 and 800 A.D., and punctuation was necessary so that those who read the text aloud knew where to pause and place emphasis. In the 1400s, a huge shift came with the printing press, which spurred the need for a more unified punctuation system.
While punctuation as a single system hasn’t changed too much since the old days, marks and symbols have gradually gained and lost meaning. One important shift occurred in the late 20th century with the life-changing arrival of computers. Suddenly, symbols like ‘#’ and ‘@’ took on whole new, tech-specific meanings! Additionally, texting and chatting online requires knowledge of a wholly different, somewhat colloquial body of punctuation rules.
National Punctuation Day timeline
Since many of the languages that came before this document did not require spacing or punctuation and were predominantly verbal, the earliest known document with punctuation is the Mesha Stele.
Though they had previously written in ‘scriptura continua,’ the Greeks begin to adopt Aristophanes of Byzantium’s system of a single punctuation dot to mark speeches.
As the Bible begins to be mass-produced, punctuation is popularized along with it.
Venetian printers Aldus Manutius and Sons are credited with popularizing many forms of punctuation we still use today.
With the rise of computers, online chatting, and programming, punctuation meanings and standards begin fluctuating rapidly in the late 20th century and into the 21st century.
National Punctuation Day FAQs
Are there other holidays on September 24?
Yes! September 24 is also National Cherries Jubilee Day.
Are there other National holidays about grammar?
Yes! National Grammar Day falls on March 4.
Where is National Punctuation Day celebrated?
The United States.
How to Observe National Punctuation Day
Look out for punctuation errors
While you read the newspaper and have your coffee today, pay extra attention to punctuation. It’s amazing how many errors slip past even the most seasoned publishers! Spend the day reading and circling when punctuation is used incorrectly.
Take the punctuation challenge
Each year, the day’s founder sends out a punctuation challenge. The test can be found on the website for National Punctuation Day and consists of punctuation games.
Any grammar nerd would be excited to see #NationalPunctuationDay pop up in their timeline! Post it so more people in your circle can partake in the joy that is punctuation-checking today.
5 Fun Facts About Punctuation
A question mark was… a word?
While today we end literary queries with a simple symbol, ‘?,’ those who used Latin would write out the word ‘questio’ to indicate the end of a question!
Do you know what ‘#’ is called?
You might have said ‘pound’ or ‘hashtag’ (maybe depending on your generation) — little did we know, its official name is an ‘octothorpe’!
Punctuation hasn’t always existed
In early writing, text was just long strings of characters, unbroken by spaces or punctuation.
There was an ampersand-inclusive alphabet
Coming in hot after the letter ‘z’, the ampersand was stated in the alphabet as ‘z and per se and’ — it was through years of lazy pronunciation that ‘and per se and’ became what we know today — ampersand.
‘@’ doesn’t mean ‘at’ everywhere
While we might call this an ‘at mark’ or simply an ‘at,’ across the globe this name varies wildly — in Israel, you might call it a ‘strudel’ and in Russia, it’s a ‘little dog’!
Why We Love National Punctuation Day
It reminds us to spellcheck
Once you see bad punctuation, it’s hard to unsee. It can ruin a letter, book, or article, and can drastically change the meaning of your words! National Punctuation Day is a great reminder to double-check your written work for punctuation accuracy.
Punctuation can change the meaning of almost any sentence. A semicolon or exclamation point conveys tone in typed words that we typically can’t convey without speech, so we’re lucky to have them.
It reminds us we all make mistakes!
A day of focus on the punctuation in any written work will prove it — everyone makes mistakes. From the lowliest email to a co-worker or a multi-chapter piece of literature, or academic article, there is always bound to be at least one mistake. Punctuation is tricky to get right every time, so missing a semicolon is just being human!
National Punctuation Day dates