Thursday, September 15, 2011
Thursday, September 1, 2011
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Taking the marks we have examined so far, is there any art involved in using the apostrophe? No. Using the apostrophe correctly is a mere negative proof: it tells the world you are not a thicko. The comma, while less subject to universal rules, is still a utilitarian mark, racing about with its ears back, trying to serve both the sense and the sound of the sentence - and of course wearing itself to a frazzle for a modest bowl of Chum. Using the comma well announces that you have an ear for sense and rhythm, confidence in your style and a proper respect for your reader, but it does not mark you out as a master of your craft.
But colons and semicolons- well, they are in a different league, my dear! They give such lift! Assuming a sentence rises into the air with the initial capital letter and lands with a soft-ish bump at the full stop, the humble comma can keep the sentence aloft all right, like this, UP, for hours if necessary, UP, like this, UP, sort-of bouncing, and then falling down, and then UP it goes again, assuming you have enough additional things to say, although in the end you may run out of ideas and then you have to roll along the ground with no commas at all until some sort of surface resistance takes over and you run out of steam anyway and then eventually with the help of three dots...you stop. But the thermals that benignly waft our sentences to new altitudes – that allow us to coast on air, and loop-the-loop, suspending the laws of gravity – well, they are the colons and semicolons.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves, UK edition, Chapter 3
I know that the Society of Grammar-Obsessed Sticklers has low membership. If you're reading this and you're a card-carrying member, or even a friend, I salute you. If you've never given a thought to grammar beyond the occasional fleeting moment to ponder over the purpose of that key under your right pinky, I say this: Grammar is about flow. It's about cadence, and meaning, and interpretation. Don't stress yourself out over it, but respect it as you would the school of aerodynamic thought: you may never understand it, but it is oh so very useful.
Long live the Oxford Comma.