I Care Where I Put My Commas
I am going to give you fair warning right now: This shit is about get really nerdy really quick. I do- I care about where I put my commas. I care about exacting prose done right. And in the midst of a chaotic world where no one cares about anything save for the bottom line, I care as much about how I say something as I do about what I say, even though I am quite cognizant that no one else does. I’m just that type of cat.
And don’t try to front me by asking me obscure comma rules. I was an English teacher for fifteen years for crying out loud. I am more than aware that the most frequent use of the comma is to separate items in a serialized list (and though the comma between the penultimate and ultimate items in that list is optional as long as the writer is consistent in their aesthetic choice, as a fan of the comma, I always include it in that circumstance). I know by heart the rule that suggests a comma is used to set apart an introductory phrase or clause that starts the sentence, such as, “When I use a comma, I use it right.” And finally, I can tell you that you need a comma when setting off a term of address, as in, “When I use a comma, I use it right, motherfuckah!”
But seriously, why do I need to write a column about this drivel? All of you get that I know how to use a comma, and most of you could really care less, so why do I need to go shouting from the mountain top about them? Because no else does- that’s why.
Have you taken any time recently to read any correspondence, business promotional materials, online publications- shit, anything that uses the written word to communicate ideas? The English language is taking a severe beating these days, you know, like a Chuck Norris type of ass whooping. People seem to believe that punctuation has become obsolete, that spelling correctly is vastly overrated, and that good diction has something vaguely to do with a large member they saw while watching porn. While rummaging around Facebook the other day, I saw the following real post from a friend (well, more of an acquaintance after I read this little gem on their timeline) who was genuinely supporting the presidential candidate that bears an uncanny resemblance to an orangutang having a really bad hair day, “SHARE IF YOUR VOTING FOR TRUMP.” Despite the fact that I hate be shouting at in all capitals, I still cannot stop laughing at the irony here. And if you don’t get the irony, please stop breathing. Seriously, you’re taking up oxygen that could be better used by carbon-based life forms that actually use their brains for thinking.
The problem here is that we are slipping- slowly sliding down a precipitous slope into a morass of muddied ideas and stench-ridden prose. Don’t give me the old standby line, “C’mon, you knew what I meant.” I didn’t. I struggled to make any sense out of that gibberish you just spewed like lava erupting out of an indiscriminate volcano. Competent prose communicates ideas with efficacy and precision. Artistic prose communicates with beauty and passion. Too much of the prose I read these days communicates nothing other than the shoddy nature of modern day modern day writing instruction.
Yes, much of this can be attributed to the impact text messaging has had on modern communication, but I am not about to write about how texting signals the inevitable demise of the written word. We all get that texts are a safe haven for poor grammar. I do not credibly expect anyone to start scrupulously pouring over their text messages for proper syntactical construction. But we do have to acknowledge the impact modern communication techniques have had in other writing venues.
The fact is that we have become sloppy- sloppy about how we write, sloppy about how we report things in the media, sloppy about how we educate our kids, sloppy about how we chose our political candidates, sloppy about how we work through the personal relationship issues we give up on each and every day. Just plain sloppy. I try not to quote my Grandma Ruie on a regular basis in this column for fear of being labeled overtly “old school”, but in this particular instance, I just cannot resist. She used to tell me, “If something is worth doing, do it right.” Whether she was overlooking our homework or “supervising” our building of a fence in her backyard, she held us to the standard of doing the job right, a standard that eventually became infused into each of our beings. Too often, however, the motto our modern culture seems to be living by goes something more along the lines of, “Just get it done.” This might get the task accomplished, but we are beginning to see the repercussions of settling for sloppy, and the answer is complacency over proficiency.
Sadly, this, I believe, is the source from which the decadence of our culture will emanate. Our descent from the top will not come from an ideological or cultural battle; it will come in the form of us simply not giving a shit. So when your spouse leaves you, suggesting that you just don’t pay enough attention to them anymore, or your boss fires you because he considers your effort to be lackluster, realize it all stems back to the fact that you don’t know how to use a comma. But take solace my friends in the infinite wisdom of the venerable Kurt Vonnegut “So it goes.”
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 Words or Less every TUESDAY and FRIDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com
Should their be a comma after Vonnegut? Or perhaps the trusty em dash would add emphasis 2 ur close.
Oh Jonathan-as my former student-I would hope you would pick up on the intentionally ironic humor of the final sentence-but you should have also noted that there should be commas around “my friends” since that is a parenthetical appositive.