Alex Blaze

Comma on people!

Filed By Alex Blaze | March 14, 2008 4:28 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: Bill Cosby, Stephen Colbert

I don't know about you, but nothing gets me more rankled than cosby.jpga comma splice, sometimes I spend entire days that I should be working in bed recovering from viewing this all-too-common mechanical error.

Did you catch me using a comma splice in the very sentence I denounced it? Chances are you didn't. Comma splices, the engorged appendices of the grammar world, are just one of a myriad of mistakes people often make when attempting to use this tiny friend.

That's right, people. Commas, like ladybugs, are our friends; if we know how to use them, then, like our friends, they'll help us look smarter, feel better, and earn money.

As you can see from the cover of Bill Cosby's most recent book, Come on People, he's forgotten the comma of direct address. That makes it, seem not like he's telling "people" to "come on," but like he's telling the understood "you" to "come on people"! (Those white blotches aren't helping.)

This caused a bit of a stir in the grammar blog community a few months ago. It's not hard to understand why; for, all the work that goes into editing books by prominent people, they should at least grammar check the three-word title.

But, not all comma errors are fun-and-games-until-somebody-gets-hurt. Consider this from the NY Sun:

There appears to be an error on the bronze plaque inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, inscribed with the famous sonnet "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus.

Lazarus's poem contains the immortal lines: "'Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.'" Just prior to these lines on the plaque are inscribed the following lines: "'Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!' cries she / With silent lips." But in the handwritten manuscript for a collection of poems that Lazarus compiled in 1886, a year before her death, the phrase "ancient lands" is set off by commas: "'Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!'"

As Stephen Colbert said:

Whatever happened to the old adage, "Copy edit twice, cast in bronze once"? Now we've spent 120 years thinking our "pomp" should be keeping "ancient lands," instead of "ancient lands" keeping our "pomp"! That changes everything.

Indeed it does.

Now I know that some people get put off by commas because they think they're complicated. But if you read, and memorize these 15 rules of comma usage, provided for everyone by the good folks at Purdue University you can't go wrong.

If that's too much for you, there's an easy way to remember and check for the most common comma karma errors. ABCD2: American, Buddy, Comma, Double-check, and 2 independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunctions, not other uses of coordinating conjunction, require a comma.

Here's ABCD2 with something I like, to call an explanation:

  • American

    Newsflash to the America-haters: if you live inside these borders soon to be walled up, then you have to put the comma inside the quotation marks:

    He told me to call him "sir," and that was what I was longing for.

    Here's the same sentence, except written in heathen English:

    He told me to call him 'sir', and that was what I was longing for.

    Incomprehensible gibberish! If I didn't write them both myself I wouldn't have understood the second either.

    I don't get it, people, but I hope that someday the English will learn to speak American.

  • Buddy

    Commas that set off phrases in the middle of the sentence always come with a buddy. Think of this as comma homosexuality - they aren't chillin' with their comma dudes and hopin' to score some semicolon vajayjay; they prefer the company of their own punctuation mark. (Plus they're kinda campy.)

    So this:

    Lu Anne's girlfriend, Bethany has the sexiest little black dress I've ever seen.

    should be this:

    Lu Anne's girlfriend, Bethany, has the sexiest Leatherman I've ever seen.

    See what a difference that second comma makes?

  • Comma

    Use it correctly.

  • Double-check: Don't be so fast and sloppy, that you don't catch obvious comma errors, because if you don't, your readers will.

    The best way I've found to double-check comma usage is to put them in everywhere and then take out the ones that aren't supposed to be there. Take this sentence I wrote a few weeks ago:

    This thing won't be over until it's over, and looking for an easy way out now makes me question our ability to stay in this for the long fight, which goes beyond Obama, or Clinton, Democrats, Republicans, and specific legislation, for that matter, and straight to enacting, legislatively, culturally, and economically, our vision for a queer-affirming and otherwise free and equal society.

    Oh, no! That's a lot of commas! How do we know if they're all supposed to be there?

    This, thing, won't, be, over, until, it's, over, and, looking, for, an, easy, way, out, now, makes, me, question, our, ability, to, stay, in, this, for, the, long, fight, which, goes, beyond, Obama, or, Clinton, Democrats, Republicans, or, any, specific, legislation, for, that, matter, and, straight, to, enacting, legislatively, culturally, and, economically, our, vision, for, a, queer-affirming, and, otherwise, free, and, equal, society.

    Doesn't the first sentence just flow better after reading that second sentence? I think I've made my point.

  • 2 independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction, not other uses of coordinating conjunctions, require a comma.

    If you're writing "Blah and blah," "Blah or blah," or "Blah but blah," then you need a comma before the conjunction if both "blah," and "blah" can stand alone.

    That'd be easy if we spoke Blahese, but we don't. I'll be the first to admit that I make a mistake with this when I write too quickly, and I see it quite often when I'm reading blogs. People have to edit more closely, or grammar rules need to be changed.

OK, team, hands in the middle, "Commas are a nuanced and complex way to help make ourselves understood in the written word" on three. One, two, three - COMMAS ARE A NUANCED AND COMPLEX WAY TO HELP MAKE OURSELVES UNDERSTOOD IN THE WRITTEN WORD!!! Whoooo!!!


Family activity

See how many comma errors you can find in this post, either a comma where it shouldn't be or no comma where one should be. Errors in blockquote boxes don't count.

  • 0-2: You're pretty much illiterate, so I can say whatever I want about you, fuckchop.

  • 3-5: Reader, this is not acceptable. I know you can do better than this. See me.

  • 6-7: Good! You learned something from this post! That's a compliment to me and... a compliment to me!

  • 8-9: Grammar God

  • 10: You're Alex Blaze.

  • 11: OK, you counted that comma splice in the first sentence, but I pointed it out in the next paragraph, so you can't claim it here. Sorry, reader, but you have to pull your own weight.

  • 12: That one's debatable.

  • 13-14: Really? I didn't see those at all! Just one of those days, y'know, where there's always something.

  • 15-16: OK, now you're getting on my nerves.

  • 17+: I'm strong enough not to care what you think about me, nerd.

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First off, what the hell does this have to do with gay people? And second off, you're such a dork! There's a grammar blogosphere? I had no idea. But worse than that, I had no idea you trolled around in it. Alex, I worry about you!

LOL, Serena.

It's about cumming on people, and I think that's plenty gay.

No need to worry about me, Serena, I have alcohol!

I wondered the same thing, Serena. Apparently going through so many posts just sent Alex over the edge. Did Bruce post lately or something? *grins*

And, yes, a grammar blogosphere? I'll bet posts go up slowly...

The best part though is that I started to read the post and realized there were errors. I almost went to edit the post without finishing it. I thought, "How embarrassing that there are comma errors in a comma post." *laughs*

Michael Bedwell | March 14, 2008 5:17 PM

Thanks for the amusing digression. If it weren't for commas my Olympian run-on sentences would be even more confusing. Sometimes I think I should offer readers a sack lunch, bottled water, and compass before they start off.

But in the examples below why you are apparently typing a hyphen with a space on either side rather than the correct em dash with no spaces on either side?

"Think of this as comma homosexuality - they aren't chillin' with their comma dudes and hopin' to score some semicolon vajayjay; they prefer the company of their own punctuation mark."


Keyboard shortcut for an em dash:

Alt + 0151

You're def right about the hyphen vs. em-dash, MB, but any character that requires more than one keystroke to get on the page isn't gonna happen. Also, the shortcut doesn't work in Movable Type. Ooooooooooooooohhhhhhh, now here's something to research.

The rare exception is accent marks when I write in French, but that's only because il faut pour la compréhension.

Dude, how did you let this one through?

That'd be easy if we spoke Blahese, but we don't. I'll be the first to admit that I make a mistake with this when I write to quickly, and I see it quite often when I'm reading blogs. People have to edit more closely, or grammar rules need to be changed.



Thanks jess. Sometimes I can't see the forest for the trees, or the usage error for the commas.

You mean, there are like, RULES!!!

Oh wow man, and just when I thought writing was just about getting the spelling right.

(Notice the use of the conjunction so that I didn't have a comma splice. Just for you Alex me boy.)

Of course, people who spend too much time fretting about the small stuff are just,, sad, reallly, just sad.

( I love literary liscence!)

Michael Bedwell | March 14, 2008 6:05 PM

Quelle true about the keystrokes! The "American" keyboard, at least, is waaaay overdue for an updating. I've never understood what ^ are used for. Answers welcome.

I support a woman who was trained in British punctuation and, thus, frequently have to "correct" her written works so that her more educated American readers won't think she's ignorant. [And, when taking my young German godson on visits to Hoosier grade school classes, I had to caution him not to use the British (English he'd been taught) "rubber" for eraser.]

Now, if my brain farts win [sic] typing homophones wood [sic] just stop.

Does the mistake where you wrote "TO quickly" when you should have written "TOO quickly" count in the overall mistake count, or is it just comma mistakes?

Just the commas, maggie, and i updated when jess told me.

You really have to be careful when you post on grammar. You all are really good at finding stuff!

too true, MB. What's the point of the "~" if you can't put it on anything? Why do wee need "*" on it twice? There's no em-dash! And, really, we should have a shift-key version of the continental European accent marks. The world's getting smaller.

Still better than the French keyboard, which requires you to press the shift for any of the numbers. Because, you know, no one ever uses those.

The keyboard is also created for typing in numerical concepts."^" is used to represent the raising of something to a nth power.

By the way, nobody truly understands being grammatically anal until they've seen the XKCD Fora's Language/Linguistics sub-forum. Who would imagine that one would see threads mourning the apparent decrease on the use of the subjunctive in English? Add in some petulant nerd exchanges, and you've got a really worrisome show of human behavior.

hmm ya'all just messing with my little old mind now aint ya? Then I have been reading chatesse for so long I can read and comprehend most anything that is pretending to written in English.Now be lucky I aint got Runes on this here PC thingy and realy mess wit ya!

Carry on!

Bruce Parker Bruce Parker | March 14, 2008 7:28 PM

I have this professor who teases me about my comma issue. To be honest I think my issues with certain grammar rules are related to my problems learning foreign languages. Anyways, thank god for losers like Alex who troll the grammar blogs and can help.

Alex, I think your hot when your grammatically correct - this post turned me on more than when Bil posts porn.

Michael Bedwell | March 14, 2008 7:36 PM

O mon Dieu! Just the thought of a keyboard with "accent acute" and "accent grave" keys makes my nipples hard!

As long as we’re being so francophilic, a standing ovation for Marion Cotillard and her totally deserved Oscar recreating the French Judy Garland. And some of the original’s flame below before her candle went out for the last time. Has French ever sounded so glorious?

Bruce, it ain't trolling if you're interested in what the blogger has to say. Also, I think I misrepresented - at least a couple of them call themselves "copy editing" blogs. So it's like a job, and therefore not nerdy.

Have to visit sometimes, Lucrece. I'm totally not as into grammar as some people out there are, no matter what this post implies.


Is spelling also important? I reference your recent posting

Emporers without clothes
Filed by: Alex Blaze
March 12, 2008 7:08 PM

Alright (comma) we can see that you either have too much time on your hands (comma) or there is some sort of grammar virus going around in France.

The comma rules have plagued me since the moment I took pen to paper (comma) back in the days when Johnson was President. (Intentional use there.) Yes (comma) I am an old lady. The one comma rule (comma) and punctuation rule (comma) that I see gets others is the time when you have a single quotation word at the end of a quote. Also (comma) some publishers and writers have told me it is okay to put the comma in front of an "and" in a list of items (comma) while others say you don't have to. I've seen rules written either way. What do you say (comma) Alex?

I also uses more commas in dialog sentences (comma) to change the flow of how a person is talking. "The (comma) can (comma) slow down (comma) the (comma) the (comma) speaking." (Double "the" was intentional.) Punctuation marks and sentence lengths can help to give you a better insight to the person's character and how they are feeling at the moment. I think that dialog is where a lot of spelling and punctuation rules can be stretched.

Ooops. In the quote with all of the commas, the first word should have been "They."

Monica~ The final comma in a list (apples, oranges, and bananas), IMHO, is optional. I prefer it since often it'll help with comprehension, but when I go through posts here on the site all I'm looking for is consistency, which occurs less often than you'd think.

And in fiction and poetry and creative nonfiction, yeah, bend the rules if they help relate an idea or an emotion.

JK~ Thanks, caught, and updated.

I'm just glad that I get to write and you get to find all of the commas I'm missing.

Rev. Laurie | March 15, 2008 9:49 AM

This was an informative post. At first though, I thought maybe you would address the slogan that the United Church of Christ denomination has been using for the past several years. Based on the words of Grace Kelly - "Never place a period where God has placed a comma." They have pins of red commas that people wear to generate conversations with people about their faith starting from this phrase from Grace Kelly. I use it to share how we may feel like God has given up on us or that Christianity has closed the door on us (especially GLBT people), but that it really may be just a short pause and life and faith will go on again. Maybe we have given up, but God has not. We sometimes put a period in our lives when we really needed the comma. I really apreciate this, because it allows hope, reconciliation and faith to grow again.

The other catch phrase we use with this concept is "God is still speaking." Sometimes a long pause (comma) sounds like a period and our spiritual lives get cut off, but really God is still speaking. The question is are we still listening? The radical right tries to say that God has stopped speaking, but faithful gay people and others believe that God is still speaking and we continue to hear more good news, especially after the commas in our lives.

Just some of my thoughts on the intersection between commas and faith. Even if you are not a religious person or believe in God I hope it is inspiring that many times what we think is a period, an end of something, it may really be a comma and we will move on again soon. It gives me hope.

You're never going to get rid of either ~ or ^. Both are important in certain programming languages and you wouldn't be able to do exponents (2 squared) without the ^.

I've never really cared much about the differences between the dashes emdash vs. hyphen vs. double hyphen. I figure most people don't know the actual difference and when each should be used, so if Word doesn't autocorrect me, I leave it with whatever I typed. I'm certainly not going to type 5 keys to get one friggin' character.

You know, a great follow up to this would be an article on the semicolon. I never use those correctly and neither do most people. The comma can be more subjective than the semicolon. I see semicolon rules as more rigid - the comma can be used at times in a stylistic sense, but the semicolon isn't used nearly as much for stylistic reasons. In fact, I think many people avoid them simply because the rules are so rigid.

There isn't much to say about the semicolon. You use it when you have two independent clauses (complete sentences that can stand alone) and no conjunction. Like:

I sucked his cock eight times that weekend; however it was one of the ugliest I'd ever seen.

The "however" isn't necessary; it's just there as an adverb, not to be confused with a conjunction.

That's it, and, yeah, it's a lot more rigid because there are quite a few optional commas, and they're more likely to be used with a little license. I think people avoid them mostly because they're so rarely seen and because they only have one use. Plus most people just put a comma where there's supposed to be a semicolon.

I might follow this up with a post on British vs. American English since there are so many Americans who read or see something British and it just sticks with them for no reason and then they go and use it.

I remember my mom said the same thing about typing so many characters to get a key when she started writing Spanish tests on the computer and she needed the accent marks. Before that she did it on the typewriter and would go in afterwards with a pen to put them in. And before that in Argentina where she taught English she wrote up tests by hand.

And Wikipedia reminds me of use number two, just as I post a comment:

It is used as a stronger division than a comma to make meaning clear in a sentence where commas are being used for other purposes. A common example of this use is to separate the items of a list when some of the items themselves contain commas.

"There are several Waffle Houses in Atlanta, Georgia; Greenville, South Carolina; Gainesville, Florida; and Mobile, Alabama."

Never mind about the comma splice. You got some 'splainin' to do, Lucy, about the spliced second half of your sentence:

sometimes I spend entire days that I should be working in bed recovering from viewing this all-too-common mechanical error.

Without recasting this effort entirely, or, without substituting "when" for "that" and adding a friendly comma after "working", I could easily be justified in responding "Yes, you should be working in bed". See?

And what of it if I am working in bed, ft? ;)

I had an operation and I now have a semi-colon. (I suppose now you'll PUNish me for this.)