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The Wrath of the Comma

  • The Wrath of the Comma

My wife, Lauren, is a big fan of punctuation (yes, we are a family of grammar geeks) and she introduced me to “Eat, Shoots and Leaves” by Lynne Truss.

In the book, Truss bemoans the state of punctuation in the United Kingdom and the United States, mixing in examples, astute comments and humorous barbs.

Some of Lynne Truss’s examples are broad, and some are very specific. For example, she has a whole chapter devoted to commas—commas have long been sources of grammatical conflict. (I’m not sure if any wars have actually broken out due to comma arguments, but I think it’s just a matter of time.)

Lynn, our long-standing Production Coordinator (I call her “longstanding” although she is usually sitting), and I have had many conversations about various punctuation issues, but most especially the Oxford comma. (In “red, white, and blue” the Oxford comma is the comma after “white”—whether you think it is necessary will go a long way in determining whether we will ever go out for coffee.)

An errant comma, Oxford or not, can dramatically alter a sentence. Consider these two examples, which I am lifting from Lynne Truss’s book, although this example also throws in a colon for good measure. I’m all for a good colon every now and then:

A woman, without her man, is nothing.

A woman: without her, man is nothing.

But in this era of text messaging, tweets, memes and so on, does grammar really matter? In advertising or marketing, correct grammar should always take a back seat to communication; it’s better to look right than to be technically correct. But you need to be somewhat careful—a company or a person can look bad if they/he/she uses a there for a their, a period for a comma, or an over-abundance of exclamation points. Good grammar is never noticed, but faulty grammar jumps out.

Fortunately, we take our grammar seriously at the Pepper Group, which is why our long-standing Lynn (not to be confused with the book-writing Lynne) and I have passionate comma conversations. We just want to make the brochure or website or ad correct, or at least as correct as it should be.

So we’ll continue to fight for our commas, but nicely. In the end, after Lynn and I come to an agreement, I’ll always say, “Thank you,” and Lynn will smile and say, “Your welcome.”

Or rather, “You’re welcome.” Sorry about that.

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