Thetford Woman Knows Punctuation. Period.
Dana Grossman poses with style and grammar books she frequently consults. Grossman recently was announced as one of four winners of the 2013 National Punctuation Day Presidential Punctuation Contest. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
East Thetford — An Upper Valley resident has been nationally recognized as a prominent punctuation professional — a commander of commas, harbinger of hyphens, expert with ellipsis, deft at dashes ... well, you get the point.
Dana Cook Grossman, an East Thetford resident who recently retired as longtime editor for the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth’s quarterly magazine, was one of two adult winners in the National Punctuation Day’s annual contest.
“I guess it’s a niche award, but for a word nerd, it’s kind of cool,” Grossman said yesterday.
Keeping in line with the presidential election year, the 2012 challenge was to write a single three-sentence paragraph using 13 punctuation marks — everything from periods and comas to quotation marks and exclamation points — to explain which of the 13 could be considered “presidential,” and why. There was no word limit for the sentences.
Grossman chose to write about a maxim made famous by former President Harry Truman, who also just so happened to be National Punctuation Day Founder Jeff Rubin’s favorite president. Her entry was selected from more than 300 submissions as one of two adult winners in the nationwide contest, which also crowns two student winners.
“One of my grandfathers used to say, ‘Sometimes good luck is better than good management,’ ” said Grossman of the coincidence.
According to Rubin, it wasn’t just his love for Truman that tipped the scales of what he acknowledged to be somewhat a “very arbitrary judging system.”
“She got to the point right away,” said Rubin, who said he earned his grammarian’s chops as a newspaper reporter in the 1970s and 1980s. “We were taught to get your most important information into your lede, your first sentence.”
Rubin, who now runs a newsletter publishing company in California, said that Grossman’s second sentence, which included 11 punctuation marks, was especially well crafted.
“So, it was to the point and it included (a reference to) Harry Truman,” said Rubin. “That’s what I mean by an arbitrary selection.”
The idea behind National Punctuation Day originated in 2004, said Rubin, after his wife grew tired of the former newspaperman using foul language while combing through the daily paper with a red pen on the hunt for poor grammar.
“She urged me to find another outlet for my disenchantment,” he said.
Around that time, Rubin was looking at an online version of Chase’s Calendar of Events, a more than 50 year-old publication that outlines hundreds of occurrences for each day of the year — from presidential proclamations to astronomical phenomena.
“Punctuation has always been a pet peeve of mine,” said Rubin, who added that he heard back from the editors of the calendar immediately after he submitted his idea for a National Punctuation Day.
Rubin said that the contest associated with the holiday started about four or five years ago. In 2010, he challenged adults and students to write haikus about punctuation.
The more rewarding side of what he does, said Rubin, is getting students in high school and college excited about punctuation. He added that his best entries often come from those age brackets.
Grossman said that, when pondering what constitutes a presidential punctuation mark, the British expression for a period, a “full stop,” popped into her head. From there, she said came to mind the expression made famous by a sign that used to sit on former President Truman’s desk in the Oval Office — “The buck stops here!”
“As I was looking down the list, all the years I spent writing headlines and writing captions, you kind of let your mind go into free association mode,” said Grossman, who described the fitting in all 13 standard punctuation marks as the most time-consuming part of the writing process, which she completed in less than half an hour.
A self-described lover of words and word games in all forms, Grossman said she regretted that “being careful with grammar and punctuation particularly in this day and age is sometimes looked down upon.”
Grossman is opposed to unneeded corrections from what some refer to as the “grammar police” — those who correct the grammar of others without much thought or consideration. But she also said that grammar is crucial in clarifying the intent of an author’s words outside of the more casual mediums of text messages and emails.
“If you’re sitting down reading a magazine or reading a novel, it really makes a subtle difference in how easily you can comprehend the ideas that a writer is trying to get across,” she said.
Ben Conarck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.