Thursday, June 13, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

Another blog post that starts with a sample of the internet's finest, one of my favorite bits of humor, which I will title only:

Commas Are Important

This never fails to make me giggle, and is a great illustration of the importance of punctuation ... though unlike most examples, this one distorts the meaning by addition rather than subtraction.

I've always been a stickler for commas - not only where they belong, but where they don't.  (Whenever I see a sentence starting with "And," or "But," I cringe.)  I'll cheerily confess to overusing my ellipses, my semi-colons and my dashes, especially for effect, but I try to make sure every comma is in its place.

Lately, however, I've noticed an increasing trend of disappearing commas.  Some e-publications seem to have style-guides that omit not only standard comma use, but occasionally remove them from places where they're crucial for clarity.  I don't chalk this up to poor proofing or ignorance:  it seems to be a deliberate choice.

So all right, maybe I'm an old fogey in some regards.  Is this sentence really hindered by the loss of its comma?

Earlier that day, she had tea with a dragon.

(I've warned y'all about my examples before, haven't I?)

It's still clear what's being talked about, but I can't help but feel the loss of the beat.  On the other hand:

She turned around slowly assessing the beast.

Is she turning slowly, or assessing slowly?  The lack of comma makes it muddy.

I think part of the reason commas are something I spend so much energy with is they are the tools of beat, rhythm and accent in language.  As a musician, I can't help but notice the flow.  As a harp player, I'm particularly attuned to phrases in music.  When you work out the fingering for a tune, as long as there is at least one finger on the harp, the notes provide a connected phrase.  As soon as you come off, that breaks the connection - the end of the phrase, the pause, the singer's breath mark ... the comma.

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