From the Rectory – August

If you ever take a cursory glance at the collected musical works of writer and composer Lionel Bart, you’d be forgiven for thinking that he had more than a passing fondness for the exclamation mark. Having had moderate success with both Lock Up Your Daughters in 1959, and then Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’be later the same year, the runaway popularity of his most famous work Oliver! just twelve months later encouraged Bart to write the World War Two themed Blitz! Despite a run of more than a year, Blitz! didn’t achieve the global popularity that Oliver! had. Bart put this down to its subject matter resonating more clearly for UK audiences, although playwright Noel Coward described it as ‘twice as loud and twice as long as the real thing’’.

Even with two exclamation marks, his Robin Hood musical Twang!! in 1965 spectacularly failed to repeat earlier success, closing after just 43 performance, receiving scathing reviews, playing to near empty auditoriums, and costing Bart his fortune.

Although less likely to do with avoiding monetary disaster, the use of punctuation to aid in the understanding and correct reading of written text has has been going on for nearly 3000 years. The earliest examples featuring points and strokes to mark the beginning and end of sections. In modern English, punctuations is vital. “Eats shoots and leaves” conveys an entirely different meaning to “eats, shoots, and leaves”.

The bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek The first two without either vowels or punctuation, the earliest Greek manuscripts in capitals and without spaces between words, but with some inconsistent punctuation. The task of the translator and editor becomes harder as a decision to where English punctuation is used can change the emphasis of the text. One passage in the New Testament is a single sentence in the original Greek, three sentences in one translation and more than ten in others.

There are words of Scripture that transcend punctuation. This is from the gospel of John.

God is love and all who live in love live in God and God lives in them

No need for comma, full stop, semicolon or apostrophe, but most definitely worthy of at least one exclamation mark!

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