Punctuation Wars

The Comma World of
Grammar Vigilantes

‘Language is a source of misunderstandings,’ wrote Antoine Saint-Exupéry. He’d surely have elaborated it further to indict the written word too, but probably wanted to keep the sentence short. Knowing the risks helped him avoid mix-ups by a discriminating use of punctuation.
Many a wrong diacritic, though, fell an incautious scribe. Among them, behold the common comma, tricky hook known to trip phrase and auteur alike. Lives and reputations have been ruined by its misuse, and to misjudge the pause literally sucks the air out of the communication.
Isn’t it why they’re often referred to as accidents? Don’t dare tell that to a philologist, who’d be capable of stuffing your pretty face with quotation marks so thick, soon you’d be spitting your own full stops to the matter. And you thought you English teacher was mean.
Speaking of which, native English-speakers tend to look down on accents used in the most languages, as unnecessary pomposity. They don’t know how easy they have it. Those marks are in fact as vital to meaning as words themselves, and you may forget to use them properly at your own risk.
And unless you want to get into a fistfight, it’s also advisable to never, ever, say to a grammarian that punctuation need not to apply to emailing, texting, and/or tweeting. As Michael Skapinker put it, in one of his FT columns, social media and short messages do not protect us from misunderstandings.
SPLICE, YOU COMMA CHAMELEON
He was referring to a recent Maine court case worth thousands of dollars, won due to good comma placement. For often, you may think that being tired, frustrated, slightly drunk and ready to hit the sack, excuse you from adding a fifth comma, just before the ‘and.’ Don’t, we beg you.
Let’s be forgiven only once about this, two full sentences shouldn’t be separated by just a comma, as in this case. There’s simply not enough pause, critics of the Splice comma say. But on the prior graph, you’d be in Oxford comma jurisdiction, as the lack of that fifth messes all up the meaning.
It’s all a tad less than thrilling, you’d say, lacking fun and games quality, until somebody sues, that is. For ages, (more)
_______
Read Also:
* What’s the Point
* Author’s Revenge

Continue reading

The Unconfessional

Hold the I or Indulge on Us;
Agonizing Over Who’s Speaking

Now let’s talk about at least one thing we really dislike about us. That’s exactly it, this idea that using ‘us’ makes our writing more compelling, or less self-indulgent, or a bit more inclusive. It doesn’t, we knew that from the beginning, and now we’re having a hard time going back on it.
It was a conscious decision, mind you. The rationale behind it was that, since the fiction you find elsewhere on this blog is written in the first person, news stories shouldn’t have so much of a personal focus, a narrator if you’d prefer, lest not the content be taken over by the voice.
There’s no way around it, it was pitiful mistake, just like any other on this site: full of lofty ideas of making it all about the reader and not the writer, and winding up being all about the modifiers and not the subjects. Guilty as charged, there isn’t any formula to make this less than another exercise of vain righteousness.
The idea would be then to walk back into that original, and faulty, premise, if not for anything else, then for the fact that everybody hates those insufferable pretentious dopes, who like to refer to themselves in the third person. How come this became a pertinent issue is a matter of contention.
It’s also well understood how flawed such an undertaking can be, that of deconstruct a device used for over two years to basically, let’s face it, mask the real problem: we simply don’t have much stomach to keep using the I did this and I did that. Mainly because we usually don’t do either.
So, here we are, and we mean everyone who’s still with us at this point, knee-deep into a muck of pretense about form, and probably already wise to the fact that, lacking a certain knack for a good news story, there’s not much there, now is there? You, of course, will be the judge.
It was also, let’s be fair, an idea that not just seemed good at the time, but also served well the purpose of, well, repurposing the news of the day with a humorous tinge and a slight slant towards the potentially overlooked detail. After all, there wouldn’t be any point in rewriting someone’s else report.
Somewhere between that noble, albeit arguable idea, and the end result, which was the excessive use of the plural voice, a lot of common sense got lost and wasted. There isn’t any packed newsroom behind ‘us,’ Continue reading