Thursday, May 10, 2012

Serious Comma Malfunction an Epidemic

           Do you know when to use a comma and when not to use a comma? If you do, then you’re way ahead of the masses. It’s pretty sad, really, because a comma can often change the meaning of a sentence.

       For example, check out this headline from Yahoo! a few days ago:

            Romney and Obama dead, even in poll

            Now I would have expected the deaths of Romney and Obama to have major front-page status, but I could find no confirmation elsewhere of this horrible news. The statement also led me to wonder why people would have been polled about the deaths of these two men. What is really going on in this sentence?  Serious comma malfunction – that’s what’s going on! This is a perfect example of when NOT to use a comma.

            Here’s an example of when you absolutely do need a comma:

            Let’s eat Grannie!

            This is an old example, but that doesn’t make the impact of this sentence less terrifying.  Someone is planning on eating Grannie! You can save Grannie’s life with a little comma. Don’t you want to save Grannie? Of course you do.

            Yes, you should use commas in a list. But be careful, please.

            (on a menu) Goat Cheese Salad – lettuce, tomato, goat, cheese

            Now wait! There’s goat on it? Darn, I had goat for breakfast. Think I’ll pass on that one.

            (my shopping list) dog, food, bananas, bread, milk

            All right, Mom! You’re going to get us another dog? Woohoo!

            I’m obviously not the only one who finds improper comma usage disturbing. The Onion sums up the whole subject this way:

Commas, Turning Up, Everywhere
APRIL 25, 2008 | ISSUE 44•17
WASHINGTON—In the midst of a crisis that may have reached a breaking, point Tuesday afternoon, linguists, and grammarians, everywhere say they are baffled, by the sudden and seemingly random, appearance of commas, in our nation's sentences. The epidemic of errant punctuation has spread, like wildfire, since signs of the epidemic first, appeared in a Washington Post article, on Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben, Bernanke. "This, is an unsettling trend," columnist William Sa,fire, told reporters. "We're seeing a collapse of the grammatical rules that have, held, the English language, together for, centuries." Experts warn, that if this same, phenomenon, should occur with ellipses…

Have an example of a comma blunder to share? I’d love to see them!

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