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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

March 20, 1994|DICK RORABACK

THE NEW WELL-TEMPERED SENTENCE by Karen Elizabeth Gordon (Ticknor & Fields: $13.95; 148 pp.) Ah, punctation. You can't live with it, you can't live without it. Does it really matter? You bet your brackets. Take a simple declarative sentence: "My wife doesn't understand me." Now toss in a couple of punctuation marks: "My wife doesn't; understand me?" But moving right along, for those of us who've never been sure where to put the damn semicolon, when to hyphenate, whether to dash or colon-ize, here's Karen Gordon again, updating and expanding her "Well-Tempered Sentence" of 11 years ago. Generally making life easier for the ink-stained wretch in all of us.

Gordon cozies up to the little squiggles--"the rakish slash," the pirouetting period, "the promiscuous hyphen"--with contagious affection, and she'll teach you either way. If you can grasp that "a comma comes between two independent clauses joined by coordinating or correlative conjunctions," more power. If you can't, there are examples: "You crossed my mind, but you didn't stay there." For every gerund or appositive or transitional conjunctive adverb, there's " 'Gosh, the moon looks like something from outer space,' breathed Heidi in cosmic awe," or "Om, Om on the Range: Cowboys and Meditation," or "Begone, foul water sprite, and take your panties with you!" An eye-opener for the ignorant; a terrific wake-up call for the commatose.

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