Comma, Come Here (Please).

As a writer, I always find it particularly pleasing to learn something new as I am seeking to amuse myself and my readers. I found myself musing over some pet peeves of punctuation and grammar. For example, I detest the use of quotation marks for emphasis. For example, you walk into a thrift store and you see a handcrafted sign that reads: ALL SALES ARE “AS IS” WITH “NO IMPLIED WARRANTY”. This implies that the terms of the sale could be left to interpretation. Apparently, the cost of ink is great to underline words than to encase them in quotes. Our country has an undesirable unemployment rate and there are a lot of folks seeking work. In spite of this we have folks throwing around quotation marks willy-nilly and forcing them to work outside of their job description. Anyway, I digress.

Given that it was my day off from work and I had no homework to do, I did some Internet surfing about punctuation. I ran across the name of a great man — Aldus Manutius (circa 1450 – 1515 A.D). Aldus Manutius the Elder made some great innovations in writing that we now take for granted. Manutius the Elder invented the use of italics in writing. This can be a great tool of emphasis or aside information when used correctly (unlike those poor quotation marks). Manutius the Elder also established the modern use of the semi-colon. More significantly he produced what was then known as octavo book (one-eighth size paper). This allowed books to be carried in one’s pocket or satchel. That’s right, folks. Manutius the Elder created what we know as the paperback or pocketbook.

You may wonder what lead me to start this Internet search in the first place. Some might suggest that it could be one of the three following reasons: a) I was looking to expand my knowledge. b) My warped mind took me onto a new adventure. c) I was incredibly bored and my wife was hogging the television. Mind you, all three scenarios were a factor but the third was probably the greatest motivator. It all started very simply. My wife had to draft a 300 word essay for entrance into a college program. At first, she asked for my assistance as she was unsure that she could pound out 300 words. I found this laughable. A diplomatic person would say that my lovely wife is blessed with the gift of loquacity. I would quote the late Jerry Clower and suggest that my lovely wife “sure can shell down the corn”. The point is that 300 words would not be a problem.

As I reviewed her essay, I corrected some spelling here and suggested some rewording there. I then noticed something very distinct. I have also reviewed a lot of essays for our daughter Brianna. However, Brianna and my lovely wife Renee are very different in the way that they handle one lone item; the comma. My wife, Renee, tends to insert commas here, there, and, everywhere with such reckless abandon, that is only rivaled by, the aforementioned quotation mark in its use. My daughter Brianna on the other hands writes gloriously long run-on sentences that are four feet long five feet wide and could pierce the engine block on an eighteen wheeler. I do not wish to come across like I am insulting either my daughter or my wife. Both have been known to prepare my meals. In addition, Brianna proofreads my essays before I post them to my blog site. I merely found this distinction between mother and daughter very intriguing. Therefore, I searched for the comma and found Aldus Manutius the Elder. Thank you Elder Manutius for all you have done.

I will submit a disclaimer here as well. I do not mean to suggest that I am an authority on punctuation or grammar. Several of my online friends are teachers (two of them are MY former English teachers). Instead, I will suggest that you turn to the writers’ works below. I have no endorsement deal with any of these folks. I don’t make a royalty nor do I get an autographed copy of their work (Mind you, I would never be so rude as to refuse such a gesture).

  • Lynn Truss – Author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves; a great book that provides an accurate tongue in cheek guide on proper punctuation.
  • Mignon Fogarty aka Grammar Girl – I am a huge fan of the Grammar Girl podcasts and highly recommend Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing
  • Bonnie Trenga – Author of The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier: How to Solve the Mysteries of Weak Writing I bought this book for my daughter to help with her writing.

I would also like to apologize to any of the above three writers for any implication that I have learned NOTHING from any of you.


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