Wick Communications

A comma here…

In Writing on October 7, 2011 at 9:26 am

My publisher, Deb Hershon, sent me that cartoon above. Don’t know where she got it, but you’ve probably seen similar things. I think two of the main purposes of the Internet are to abuse the conventions of punctuation and then to chide us to do better. I’m serious. Google, “The importance of punctuation” and you’ll see what I mean.

Nobody likes a grammar bully, but there is something to be said for reading your work a second time with particular attention to punctuation. Did you read “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” by Lynne Truss? It’s subtitled, “A zero tolerance approach to punctuation.” She writes in a witty way but she’s passionate in her belief that punctuation matters. Here’s her dedication to the book:

“To the memory of the striking Bolshevik printers of St. Petersburg who, in 1905, demanded to be paid the same rate for punctuation marks as for letters, and thereby directly precipitated the first Russian Revolution.”

Pretty cool, huh? …

By the way, “Let’s eat Grandma” and “Eats, shoots and leaves.” are both amphibologies. That means that the meaning of a sentence depends entirely on punctuation. No, I didn’t know that. I had to look it up.

Here’s how Truss conveyed the fact that “eats, shoots and leaves” has a very different meaning than “eats shoots and leaves.”

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.

‘Why?’ asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

‘Well, I’m a panda,’ he says, at the door. ‘Look it up.’

The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. ‘Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.’

Get it? Makes me laugh every time. Want another? No? Too bad. Here are two letters I found on the Internet. Move the periods around and you convey entirely different sentiments.

Dear John:

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy—will you let me be yours?

Gloria

Or…

Dear John:

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?

Yours,

Gloria

Don’t eat grandma. Be careful with commas.

— Clay

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