Keep Your Pants On

Posted on 18/02/2014 by


Will Write For Chocolate comic. Two people talking. First person says, "I can't believe this. Some people are saying we should abolish the comma." Second person replies, "I agree. It's redundant." First says, "WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? Commas matter! What about the classic 'Let's eat, Grandma'?" Second says, "Language changes over time. People text without commas all the time now." First says, "SO? Some people text and tweet without their pants on. Does that mean we need to abolish pants?!? KEEP YOUR PANTS ON AND SAVE THE COMMA! I'M STARTING A PETITION!" She storms out. A third person enters just as she is leaving, looking confused. The second says, "Don't ask."

I don’t think the comma is unnecessary. I do think we could use less of them. Maybe a lot less. A bunch of them seem there for convention rather than because they affect comprehension. Punctuation should only exist to facilitate understanding.

I think I’m feeling this issue a little more than is totally reasonable right now because I’m in the middle of proofreading this book. I have a tendency to leave the commas I feel are extraneous out. So in the proofing process I spent a not totally reasonable amount of time staring at sentences thinking, “That doesn’t need a comma. It’s perfectly clear.” But then when I go to move on a part of my brain says, “Yeah, but you wrote the sentence. Of course it’s perfectly clear to you.” Makes me really feel that Oscar Wilde quote: I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again. I’m just glad I’m not a poet.