Let me preface this by saying that I am by no means a grammar snob. Most of my writing is riddled with things the fatcats at MLA headquarters wouldn’t approve of1. Dangling my participles, the reader is forced to find their proper subject. I love nothing more than to maniacally use split infinitives, imagining the horror Strunk and White would feel upon reading the phrase. And as for emoticons appearing in published writing, all I have to say is : | ===> (that’s right, that’s me sticking my creepily-long tongue out in defiance).
But there are a few grammatical/stylistic rules I hold near and dear to my heart: always use serial commas, as with your love, justify your text, and never, under any circumstance, use a semi-colon. To quote someone I say is one of my favorite authors so I look smart even though I’ve only read like one of his books:
Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.
-Kurt Vonnegut, “A Man Without a Country”
Preaching to the choir, Kurt. No one likes a transvestite hermaphrodite, not even in punctuation form (sorry ampersand…. it’s not you, it’s me). Yet one of my favorite stylistic tools has come under fire from a member of the literati over at The Paris Review, who frowns like this : ( upon the use of bullet points and numbered lists in creative writing. He writes:
The numbered essay is a tic. It’s a way for a lazy writer to string together ideas without attempting to chart the myelin that connects them. The western world is confusing, confused, random, atomized, unsourced, diverse, unequal, ironic, relative, scary, disconnected, tedious, and full of Michael Bay–style fast cuts. More than ever we need writers who have the courage to take the time to explain it with humility and not quarter-clever posturing.
Ouch. If I were a bullet point or numbered list I would cry like this : ‘ ‘ ‘ ( after reading that blistering critique. As Monsieur Bernstein even admits in the above-quoted hit piece, even God used numbered lists (cf. Ten Commandments), and while I’m not a religious man, anyone who can immaculately conceive a son is alright in my book. So consider this my holy quest to defend the righteousness of bullet points. In appropriate bullet point form, here’s why bullet points are awesome:
- Bullet points, they’re a marvelous thing
- Bullet points, they’re a wonderful toy
- Bullet points, they’re fun for a girl and a boy
- Also, bullet points go downstairs, alone or in pairs
Wait sorry, I’m confusing bullet points with something else. Let me try this again. Here’s really why bullet points are awesome:
- Bullet points are the new prose, because while people read only 75% of the words on a given article, they read 100% of the words written in short, sweet, and aesthetically pleasing bullet-point format
- I’m 70% sure about the above statement
- But 100% sure you’re reading this
- Two words: No. punctuation. Needed.
- Bullet points are superior to their kindred spirit, the numbered list, because no ranking is implied via bullet point
- If the Ten Commandments were written in bullet points, we’d all be as quick to obey Commandment #1 as we are Commandment #10. Instead, I figure its no big deal to covet my neighbor’s wife as long as I tone down the false idol worship.
- Oh how I covet you, Mrs. Robinson
- Rankings and values can still be conveyed via bullet points by either bullet point size or color.
- This bullet point is deep aubergine. Hence, more important
This is a massive bullet point. It’s not important, just a typo
- This is dark taupe. Importance = meh.
- Bullet points look like an all-licorice variation of candy tape.
- I don’t even like licorice, but I just licked my monitor.
- That never would have happened with Roman numbers, a.k.a. the red-headed stepchild of bullet points and numbered lists.
- Note to students: bullet points extend page length in a more subtle way than:
- increasing margins
- larger font size
- Or you can play around with the indentation of them to get to that page minimum
- Like this
Now that I’ve convinced you of the utility–nay, superiority–of bullet points, let me end on a cautionary note (via bullet points, of course):
- When using bullet points, list no more than 12 consecutively without breaking them into sub-headings. Bullet points beyond this number may result in sensory overload, which if still present after 4 hours, warrants a call to your doctor
- Don’t count the number of bullet points I wrote above
- Bullet points don’t kill people, people kill people
- Also sometimes bad writing does too
1 Bonus points for picking out the grammatical “mistake” here that was totally intentional(ish)