I ran across a cool new tool on Twitter recently. Created by tech writer Clive Thompson (@pomeranian99 on Twitter), the tool strips all the letters from your writing, leaving you only the punctuation. It’s called Just the Punctuation [https://just-the-punctuation.glitch.me].
If you’re a writer, go ahead and give it a try. Paste some of your writing into the box and click the Submit button at the bottom. It helps if you use a substantial piece of writing, something that is a few thousand words.
If you don’t consider yourself a writer and want to try the tool, grab a sample of writing that’s in the public domain and paste it in the tool. You can find public domain works on the Internet Archive. Just open the text format rather than the image. Here is a link to the text version of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” to make this easier: https://archive.org/stream/dracula00stok/dracula00stok_djvu.txt.
Below is a sample of my writing, three blog posts from Without Obligation, stripped down to the punctuation:
It’s fun and fascinating to see your writing in a whole new way. I suspected I would see a lot of parentheses in my writing and I wasn’t wrong. Lots of commas in these pieces and a string of semicolons. The question marks and ampersand jump out at me because there are so few of them. And look at all those dashes!
I wondered if my history writing for work would look different from my personal blog writing, so I ran a new history piece (so new it hasn’t fully been published yet) about Vernon Pick through the tool.
My history writing definitely looks different. Loads of parentheses, but most of these have no other punctuation inside them. That’s because they indicate a number for a footnote. If you see a pair of parentheses with a comma in the middle ( , ), that’s because there are numbers for two footnotes at the end of a line. Another difference with my history writing is the double quote marks, which indicate quotations from historical sources.
Because my history writing has lots of citations, I decided to run my citations list through Just the Punctuation.
I have 87 end notes for this article on Vernon Pick, with the single parenthesis indicating my note number thus: 1), 2), 3), etc. All the forward slashes, equal signs, percent signs, and ampersands indicate web addresses or online sources.
The mind reels at possibilities for reducing writing to punctuation. Could you tell the writing of different authors apart just by looking at their punctuation? Could you write a story or article by starting with the punctuation? Could you use punctuation stripped from a coded message to crack the code later?
In order to get images of my punctuation for the Just the Punctuation tool, I took screenshots of them (one at a time, of course!) and pasted them into Paint, where I could crop them down and save them as JPGs.
Once I had my image of three blog posts as a JPG, I put it through GIMP photo editing software and created digital art with it.
Here is my favorite iteration:
Just the Punctuation reminds me of a talk by archaeologist Doug Birk in which he revealed that explorer Zebulon Pike wrote more in his journals on his Mississippi River expedition on days when there was a full moon. That’s because he wrote at the end of the day and he could see better when there was a full moon.
The text is not the only thing speaking in a piece of writing, but you have to be very observant to see what else might be communicating.