Comma, queen

22 Feb

Contributed by PittGirly

Similar to the Dancing Queen. Or a Drama Queen, maybe.

I love commas. Really, if I could marry them, I probably would. I have a problem with them; it’s like an addiction. A love affair.

Are they appropriate in every situation, definitely not. Depending on the type of writing, they can range from helpful, to annoying, to just plan egregious. I write (not as often as I’d like, but often enough) for a web site, and I write on my own blog. These are two completely different styles of writing.

My very wise former-editor turned best friend (because who doesn’t want your editor to be your best friend?) once told me that in news-style writing you never want to stop the reader. Commas are like stop signs. Or at the very least, a yellow light. Time to take a breath. In personal writing, fiction, etc., commas are okay I guess, because they can add something unique to the narrative voice.

I happen to love commas, and stuff them in anywhere I can make even the weakest case for them in my writing. I don’t know why. And I’m not even sure what this says about me (and my writing). Do I need the pauses in my writing so the reader can catch up to me and my crazy thought process? Possibly. But I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing.

I know better than to cram commas into my web writing for work. First, we use a combination of AP style (news writing) and an in-house style anyway, so commas are practically outlawed to begin with. And second, I generally don’t know enough about the military health care system, military benefits or legislation to rewrite anything anyway. A misplaced comma in that situation could change the meaning enough that someone could lose out on an important health benefit or piece of information. Because of MY comma!

However, while I am well aware that commas have a time and a place in writing, I am still having a love affair with them– and I can’t get enough. The emphasis they add, and the tone that they lend, is, I think, what I’m looking for in my blog voice. (What’s the record for comma-to-words per sentence ratio?) I speak fast, and those of you who know me can vouch for that. My commas are like helper monkeys; they remind me (and the reader) to stop every once in a while to enjoy the leisure of language.

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5 Responses to “Comma, queen”

  1. Ben February 22, 2008 at 11:15 am #

    Two points of (potential) interest:

    1) In the television series Ed, a misplaced comma in a legal document got the title character fired – and thus set in motion his move back to Stuckeyville (and the entire series).

    2) If commas are stop signs (or yellow lights), what the heck are periods?

  2. Karen Halls February 22, 2008 at 11:32 am #

    I found your site on google blog search and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. Just added your RSS feed to my feed reader. Look forward to reading more from you.

    Karen Halls

  3. Chrisi February 22, 2008 at 5:13 pm #

    @Ben- VERY interesting, actually!

    1) See, that’s what I’m sayin’! One misplaced comma could actually make you lose your job and therefore have to live in a place called Stuckeyville!

    2)Hmmm…Interesting point. I’m open to ideas on that one. Maybe periods are like those flashing red stop lights…you’re just supposed to treat it like a 4-way stop, but because you can never tell if the other side has a flashing red, too, or one of those flashing yellows, you end up sitting there even longer than normal! It’s hell! Periods are hell!

  4. Paul April 22, 2008 at 4:13 pm #

    I heard an interesting story a while ago and cannot find the gyst of it again. Basically, there was a decree from the King that a man be hanged the following day.

    The Queen felt compassion for the man to be hanged, so she moved the position of a comma in the decree, causing it to reverse the meaning. Almost as if it would question the sanity of someone wanting to hang the man.

    Do you know what the sentance was, or of another example?

    Thankss.

  5. Leostargaser July 2, 2008 at 3:06 pm #

    Hi, I am also looking for that same change in punctuation that saved the man, hang not, that man?

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