The weight of punctuation

It all started with an apostrophe. Well, not all, of course. There is talk of the Big Bang or God or something else that started it all off. By “all”, I mean this current thought.

I did something I never, but NEVER do (and you have to take my word for it, although why should I expect you to do so when I just did what I said I never do?). I put an apostrophe where it shouldn’t be.

An apostrophe where it shouldn’t be? How could that be? Not now, not then, not before, not after; an apostrophe is never not where it should be, but always where you feel it shouldn’t be.  (anon – well, not really – with a nod to Dr. Seuss)

Not only did I commit that sin, but it was a cardinal sin because I am supposedly a writer. And…it gets worse…I put in the offending mark on my publisher’s facebook page, with thousands of people seeing it in its offensive glory.

All this got me thinking about the weight we writers bear and bare. I mean, everyone makes the occasional lapse with grammar and/or spelling. Is it not human to err? Yes, but writers aren’t supposed to be errers – not when it comes to writing. After all, is it not to writers that lesser mortals turn in order to see how the craft is, well, crafted? And, oh, what Schadenfreude would be derived from seeing mistakes made by those who… You get the message.

The pitfalls are huge. No, greater than that. I can’t just scribble off a note (even if I knew how to do that on a keyboard); I have to make doubly sure that every letter, word and sentence is perfect. Gone are the days of casual written rejoinders, pithy or otherwise.

If the truth be known (and who says that subjunctives don’t exist in English?), I hadn’t worried about it until I made that faux apostrophe pas. I hadn’t felt the weight of punctuation pressing on me, nor the responsibility I carried for all writers out there. One mistake like that errant apostrophe and the resultant comments would be directed to “writers,” not the poor soul whose trembling finger did not temporarily connect with his worn-out brain. One writer and one brain. Give us a break, will you, please?

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What’s “IFF”? (Why not “IF”?)

I have it on good authority that it’s not a case of misspelling (mis-spelling? Not miss pelling, though, which would have to be ms pelling in our politically correct world. But I digress…), nor of a shaky finger on the F. And neither does IFF stand for International Falconry Forum or International Flavors and Fragrances, although it could possibly be – but isn’t! – Identification Friend or Foe, applied to those who like or dislike our books.

When used in logic within philosophy or mathematics, IFF means “if and only if”, and as the name of John Hunt Publishing’s new imprint, it is most apt. Inspired, even. It sums up and brings across in one syllable the intent of the imprint to produce quality books on philosophy and science, books that are not for specialists only, but for the general public.

It’s the extra F that makes all the difference. It’s not just “if”: IFF forms a two-way truth. Water boils iff (if and only if ) its temperature is 100 deg. C. And when the temperature of water is 100 deg. C, it boils. In other words, water will definitely boil at 100 deg. C. (The truth of one depends on the truth of the other).

This is different to “If it’s hot tomorrow, I will go swimming” since I could change my mind, and I could also do other things. Now if I add IFF to such a mundane occurrence, there is a big change to what I am saying: “I will go swimming tomorrow if and only if (iff) it’s hot.” In that sentence, I am saying that I will definitely go swimming if it’s hot; and I won’t NOT go swimming.

(It goes without saying that the definition of IFF is slightly more complicated, so for those well versed in the subject I apologise for the potted version, which is due to restraints of space.)

It would be nice to apply IFF to Iff-Books and its authors in some way. But I am aware that other publishers have popular philosophy and science imprints that have good authors writing for them. I can, though, use one F, knowing that if an author is published by Iff-Books, the book, the author and the subject will be good.

If I had a glass of wine in my hand now, I would drink to that.

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