The Ideology of The Comma

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to PunctuationA college professor once dubbed me the “comma queen.” I love commas. They’re probably the most useful piece of punctuation ever. (When I say useful I mean I actually think about using them.) (Periods just exist. They’re mindless automatons.)

One of the more interesting issues I’ve come up against since I’ve returned to the school world is the use and misuse of punctuation. There are at least three camps, in both school-school and work-school.

The first is one that doesn’t even really acknowledge punctuation. This group includes younger students whose only real-world exposure to writing is online and heavily truncated. Most of us participate in this group at some point or another (ie: Twitter). In this world, periods still exist in the traditional form but that’s pretty much the only form that looks familiar to the other two camps.

Secondly, we have the group that recognizes proper and improper use of punctuation, specifically the comma – because it is most prone to misuse. I’d say most of us fall into this category. The prevailing mindset is, “as long as it doesn’t get in my way, I don’t really care whether that clause must have another subject in order for the comma to be valid.”

Finally, there are the grammar nazis. We’ve all met them. Maybe we are them? (Writers and editors, I’m talking to you.) Here is where we get into situations where all communication grinds to a halt until the comma splice is remedied.

As a “comma queen,” I don’t generally get along with people in the third group. I tend to fight with them because 99.7% of the time they are wrong. (Writers and editors, I’m talking to you.) No one has any difficulty discerning meaning when a comma is misused. I, could, put, commas, everywhere, and, you, would, still, catch, my, drift. You know?

However!

Sometimes they have a valid point. Sometimes the presence or absence of commas is really important (not just in clever books, like the above one which I quite enjoy, but in real, actual life).

I came across an example where the Comma Coalition would have won the battle, had a battle been waged. As I worked my way through a stack of essays the other day, I encountered a little piece on the importance of a morally upstanding police force. Here is what I read:

“They protect the weak and hurt and arrest the bad.”

Touché, grammar nazis, touché.

.

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12 thoughts on “The Ideology of The Comma”

  1. I have to say that, unfortunately, I fall into the category of “Comma Nazi.” But only because I actually had to grade the papers of middle and high schoolers for hours a night. And when you do that, as well as teaching them the comma rules by day, you kinda have to KNOW the rules. And then it sticks out to you when people–especially poeple who should know better–don't follow the rules.

    And it is shocking, positively HORRIFYING, in fact, to see how many books are published with no regard to comma rules. I just think, “Who edited this? Did they have any knowledge of the English langauge at all???”

    That being said, I will also acknowledge that I have read several grammar teaching books which differ in their opinions on certain comma rules. Some say you need a comma here, others say you don't, others say it's optional. So I try not to be too Nazi about the commas. But inside, my mental red pen is going crazy!!!

  2. Comma gurus are like the PC police. I refuse to be dictated to by them. Anytime I feel the meaning is clarified by its use I plug one in and full speed ahead. Better overused with added clarification than bowing to the gurus.

  3. I do think punctuation is important. If one wants to tweet and whatever without using punctuation then go ahead. If one wants to write English then it is worth doing it properly if one can. As a significant percentage of the population in our respective countries cannot even read and write, what hope is there for the teaching of grammar and punctuation?

  4. I'm never sure about commas. Friendly, but sometimes I have to question their backbones. A little too malleable, and it makes me wonder how they will react in a pinch. I don't really know, and that's the point, isn't it?

  5. i luvvv commas,, i have been teased at my overuse of them,,, but,,I think they are the best at any kind of transisition in thought,,,,what was i talking about,,now?,,,,:),

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