How Important Is Punctuation In Projected Lyrics?

Featuring Tom Kraeuter Posted on May 12, 2011

Okay, it's time for a heart to heart talk. I know that this is an embarrassing subject and that most worship leaders refuse to talk about it. However, it really needs to be discussed. It is achieving epidemic proportions and something absolutely must be done.

For many people, this subject is sort of like a loud noise outside in the middle of the night. They have some vague idea that there might be something wrong, but they're not entirely sure. Worse, they are certainly unsure what, if anything, should be done about it.

Now you might be thinking that we should be talking about this in a private setting. Right out here in the open on the internet might be a bit too much of a public forum. After all, shouldn't we have some measure of discretion? But, let's be honest. If I don't talk with you about this, who will?

So get ready. I'm going to try to say this very gently so as not to scare off the more fainthearted. Because of this you'll need to listen carefully. Ready? The subject is punctuation. Specifically, I'm talking about punctuation in the lyrics projected for worship. There, I said it.

It is very common today for lyrics to be projected with little or no punctuation. This isn't just a little local problem. I travel and minister in churches all across North America, and I see it everywhere.

Of course it's possible that you're thinking, "Huh? What's the big deal?" And if you are thinking that, then you're one of the primary people for whom I wrote this article.

Let's start with some basics. Punctuation matters. Don't think so? Try these three sentences:

"I love you."
"I love you!"
"I love you?"

Exactly the same words but the punctuation changes the meaning dramatically, doesn't it?

Or how about this: Suppose I really mess up and say something stupid to my wife. (This is only a hypothetical scenario, mind you.) So, in an effort to make things right, I text her a little while later and say, "I'm sorry. I still love you." That might earn me a measure of her forgiveness, right? But what if, instead, my text read like this, "I'm sorry I still love you." That might earn me several nights on the couch. Or worse. Yet I used exactly the same words. Punctuation, though, made all the difference.

Let's try one more example, and then I'll offer a practical solution. This is a letter I found recently on the internet, written by Jane to John. There are two different versions of the letter and both use exactly the same words. The punctuation, though, is very different.

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy -- will you let me be yours?

Now let's try that same letter again with different punctuation.

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?
Yours, Jane

I hope that by now you recognize the importance of punctuation. A lack of punctuation or incorrect punctuation can change the meaning. And not just a little, either. Those two letters have drastically different meanings, even though the words are exactly the same. It is the punctuation that made such a radical difference.

So what am I telling you? Simple. Stop projecting lyrics with no punctuation or incorrect punctuation.

Of course, you might argue, "But Tom, I'm not a grammar expert. I don't think I can do it." Not a problem. I've got a practical solution for you.

I can just about guarantee that if your congregation has more than ten people, there is someone out there-likely several someones-who find it very irksome when the songs are projected with little or no punctuation. To someone like this, those missing commas, periods, exclamation points and question marks are closely akin to fingernails scraping across a chalkboard. It's not just mildly irritating; they want to scream when they see it. Find that person (or those people) and enlist his/her (their) help.

Ask them to go through your songs (they'll need access to whatever projection software you use) and fix the songs. They don't need to go through all twelve hundred of your songs (or however many you have) in one afternoon. Let them work at their own pace. Some progress is better than none.

The person helping will feel fulfilled because they will have contributed something of real value from their expertise. That's really the way the Body of Christ is supposed to work, isn't it?

Eventually, all the songs will be done. Then you'll be sure the correct meaning is coming across, and the grammar aficionados will be happy. And, best of all, you and I won't need to have another embarrassing talk like this.

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