i'm just a literary tease, my reputation's on its knees.

Famous Commas & More

March 09, 2005

Man, famous people get all the breaks, huh? They get the designer clothes, name brand jewelry, and high-quality recreational substances. They get spots on night-time talk shows, the best seats at the movie theater, comped breakfasts at fancy-schmancy hotels in all the cities of the world and their photographs taken 24 hours a day. And now, as Lynne Truss blessedly informs the public, famous people get to use commas however the heck they want! This is outrageous and just plain unfair!

In her book “Eats, Shoots & Leaves,” Lynne Truss gives an extraordinarily detailed account of that most pleasing of punctuation points – the comma. The comma, my friends, has always been one of my most favourite (hah! I might not be famous, but I am certainly British.) marks of punctuation, easily beating out the colon, semi-colon, and that wimpy little period. It was a close race with the exclamation point but due to its lowered likelihood of raising one’s blood pressure – I choose the comma.

Why, once upon a time, when I was but a lass trapped in high school, a teacher informed me, quite unfairly, I thought, that I was, and I quote, “Comma happy!” As if it could be possible to love a mark of punctuation TOO much! I was appalled. Comma-happy, my ass! Only… she was right, of course. I proceeded to remove all extraneous uses of the comma from my writing.

Thank goodness too because Ms. Truss has a very firm stance on commas: “People who put in all the commas betray themselves as moral weaklings with empty lives and out-of-date reference books.” Whew! Crack that whip!

I struggled for years to curb my tendency to go overboard with the comma only to one day read this: “When it comes to improving the clarity of a sentence, you can nearly always argue that one should go in; you can nearly always argue that one should come out.” Then I read a passage about the Oxford comma – all those commas I could have left out? Wait a minute!

You mean punctuation is practically arbitrary?

Horrid thought!

Or is it? When Lynne Truss later writes, “Now, so many highly respected writers adopt the splice comma that a rather unfair rule emerges on this one: only do it if you’re famous.”

Oh, right, now I get it: You’ve got to learn all the rules of grammar, stuff ‘em inside your head using up valuable brain cells that could have been used to, say, invent new punctuation… you have to learn all the rules so that you can break them, fabulously well. Well… I guess I’m okay with that.

Moira at 10:25 AM :: Comments (3) :: « :: »

I've been rather "comma happy" as of recent. I actually have someone reading all my essays to make sure I haven't killed them with commas. I wish I was famous, so then I could break punctuation rules. *pouts*

And I know what you're saying about the whip-Truss means business in this book! Do you remember what she said about people who get their itses mixed up? Yikes!!!

Have I mentioned before that your posts crack me up?

Posted by: Valerie Masciarelli at March 10, 2005 02:34 PM

Dear Valerie - I'm glad that you think I am funny. It's a relief to know that I'm not just being silly for myself! ;c)

Truss is pretty hardcore about punctuation. At first this worried me but that I decided that I like her attitude - we should have more hardcore folks like her running around! :c)

I hear ya about the famous thing... one day... ;c)

Posted by: moira at March 10, 2005 05:53 PM

I have to say I love this post! I am not sure that I agree with you about Truss's attitude yet. I do enjoy the book and I know all these grammar rules, broken or not, are important. I am just the type of person that sees this as tedious and somewhat anal. It does scare me to think if I listen to all this I may end up just like that.
I may not have the best grammar skills but when they are publicly displayed and embrassing, I do feel a spot in my heart for the people like Truss who get to put us in our place, whip and all.

Oh and when you and Val are famous, can we get some new rules for the less fortunate?

Posted by: Samantha at March 13, 2005 11:09 PM
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