John-Paul Flintoff

Phonetic Punctuation: How To Make The Sound Of A Closing Bracket?

— Steve Chapman

A few weeks ago, preparing to record the audio version of A Modest Book About How To Make An Adequate Speech, I realised I would have to deal with something unusual in the text.

I sent out a message asking for help, highlighting the text in question:

I received a number of suggestions. One person, who lives in the place where I live, suggested using the sound of a stapler.

Others thought this was an excellent idea, but added alternative possibilities. Steve Chapman suggested a BWOOOOP with the pitch rising (opening bracket) or falling (closing). He had another recommendation: to whisper the entire parenthesis.

Emma Ewing suggested the sound of a closing door, possibly the door of a microwave oven – in fact, why not the PING! that signifies completion of the oven’s work?

Robert Twigger challenged the Ping!, on the grounds that it implied ‘food ready’, rather than the finality of a closing bracket. Instead, Twigger proposed sounds for a semi-colon (‘reverential intake of breath, no irony’) and for inverted commas (‘the tinkle of christmas decorations’).

It was additionally suggested that I should consult YouTube, where I would find a video recording of Victor Borge explaining and demonstrating phonetic punctuation.

I did. Here it is:

Posted: March 3, 2021

Keywords: steve chapman, punctuation, SFX, robert twigger, audio, modest adequate

John-Paul Flintoff headshot, with Yours Truly written across it John-Paul Flintoff is author of six books, in 16 languages, including How To Change The World and A Modest Book About How To Make An Adequate Speech. He worked for 15 years as writer and associate editor on the Financial Times, the Sunday Times and other papers and magazines.

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