What is meant by the term graphics?

In the field of languages, graphics means the devices that are used only in writing, not speech. As discussed in the post on mechanical errors with quotations, grammar is the structure of written and spoken language, but mechanics covers the rules of written language, such as spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. When one is speaking, it is not possible to make an error in punctuation, capitalization, or spelling. (Many writingessential.com posts have discussed individual “errors” in writing, with a recent post considers the issue in detail, emphasizing that an error depends on the style and authority one is following.)

The use of terms in grammar and language study can be inconsistent and individual. There is sometimes even confusion within one document by the same author. We saw in an earlier post that some people label mistakes in usage as errors in grammar. (Usage, as many of the recent posts show, primarily deals with the use of a word.)  And indeed the word grammar can mean different things depending on context, which the post What is Grammar?” enumerated.

This lack of clarity or agreement extends to the discussion of punctuation and mechanics. While one resource separates the topics into “punctuation, mechanics, capitalization, and spelling” (e-education.psu.edu), others put capitalization under the category of “mechanics” – though one is a bit vague including “other symbols”  under all that  “arbitrary ‘technical’ stuff” (katherinewikoff.com).

Richard Nordquist gives the most comprehensive definition: “In composition, writing mechanics are the conventions governing the technical aspects of writing, including spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and abbreviations.” He includes parentheses, quotation marks, hyphens, and apostrophes as marks of punctuation, so to separate them out from punctuation – as the authors of Syntaxis do – does not make sense, even though they are mechanical marks. (Here is Nordquist’s list: “Marks of punctuation include ampersands, apostrophes, asterisks, brackets, bullets, colons, commas, dashes, diacritic marks, ellipsis, exclamation points, hyphens, paragraph breaks, parentheses, periods, question marks, quotation marks, semicolons, slashes, spacing, and strike-throughs.”)

The word graphics would cover all of the areas touched on, which is why I prefer it above the others. Graphic has many associations, including the sense of being vivid and of being explicit (violent or sexual), as well as visual with an illustration (or graph), graphic arts, and graphic design.

But as dictionaries and one of my favorite texts for learning English language skills, English 3200, assert, graphics is one of many words derived from the Greek word graphein, meaning “to write”: telegraph (distance writing), phonograph (sound writing), and graphite (the “lead” in pencils). [The core of pencils are made up of a non-toxic mineral which derives its name graphite from the German graphit invented in the late 18th century.]

For this reason, the term graphics is the most accurate and inclusive. And, although writers need to be concerned with spelling, capitalization, and abbreviations, it is punctuation marks that are the graphics writers are most concerned with.

(References: e-education.psu.edu; katherinewikoff.com; Nordquist on mechanics and on punctuation; English 3200; definitions for graphics compiled from collinsdictionary.com and Oxford Languages.)

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