Wrinkled Wisdom: To Comma or Not to Comma

We’re giggling about a blurb we read recently indirectly complimenting oldies: “As I watch this generation try to rewrite history, one thing I’m sure of.  It will be misspelled and have no punctuation.”

Bunches of articles recently underscored that point with the headline: “People do grammar bad.  Google’s AI is hear too help.”  The headline substituted the homonym “hear” for “here”…the one with an “a”…as in what your ears do.  And, “too” instead of “to”?  “Too” means “also” or “in addition.”  This sentence calls for “to,” a preposition.  To be or not to be!  The media was having fun highlighting a new service aimed at improving spell check and grammar when communicating via Gmail.  

Take the period.  Periods are no-brainers.  They end things, period.  Question marks ask a question.  Oops!  Unless you are a young person who is an uptalker—one who ends statements with an upward inflection that make them sound like questions.   Apparently, kids do it when they’re not quite sure if what they are saying is true, clear enough, or could tick off their audience.  Or, if they are Valley Girls.  

Exclamation marks may be overused, but they effectively express emotion—something funny, exciting, or disgusting!!!   Okay, we’ll plead guilty on that one.  Even semicolons become clear when it’s explained they connect two related sentences.  The colon is an issue for another day.  We are always thrilled when we say “colon” and listeners do not assume we mean a body part.

It’s the use of commas we want to focus on today.  To use a comma or not use a comma can be a challenge for any writer.  Commas deserve special attention because they can make a critical difference to meaning or intent…..even legally.  

Specifically, our focus is on the controversial Oxford comma, the comma preceding “and” in a list of three or more items.  As in:  All’s fair in love, war, and divorce.  It invokes arguments and controversy.  It’s been dropped from many style books used by newspapers and publishers.  It shouldn’t be.  

There are some famous, or infamous, examples of the power of the Oxford comma.  Many people are familiar with the book Eats Shoots and Leaves, written by former editor Lynn Truss, who is gravely concerned about our current grammatical state She hoped her book would stir more people to become punctuation advocates.

The book’s title is an attention getter.  Are we talking about an individual who eats, shoots someone or something, and leaves, or someone who eats greens?   Ayn Rand, the founder of Objectivism, was reportedly hot on the Oxford comma.   A linguist emphasized this with the example:  This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.  Hmmm.  Is the book dedicated to all three?  Or, without the Oxford comma after Rand’s name, are the book author’s parents Rand and God?

A missing Oxford comma cost a Maine dairy company $5 million after its delivery-truck drivers sued the company for unpaid overtime and lost wages.  We are guessing that lawyers are now paying increased attention to the Oxford comma after reading about the exorbitant cost of that missing comma.  

The intensified use of texting and tweeting and emailing contributes to shorthand that is an assault on punctuation…and spelling and good writing.  Love the term disemvoweling, which describes the elimination or reduction of vowels in texts.  OMG!

Our wrinkled wisdom for today? We recognize American English is a living language, but please join us and become punctuation advocates.  Embrace the Oxford comma!  Buy Truss’s book for your kids and grandkids so they can learn to punctuate properly, write a resume that demonstrates an understanding of good grammar, and increase their chances of getting a well-paying job.  Teaching cursive writing is going the way of the buggy whip.  Don’t let punctuation and grammar become a dying art.  Poor punctuation promotes misunderstanding and ambiguity.  Let’s eat Grandpa.  Huh?? Oh, you meant to write, let’s eat, Grandpa.  Whew!

Texting: a Foreign Language

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The hours kids spend on their phones are paying off. They have become fluent in a foreign language—texting. We get it. Texting is a way to communicate quickly with friends and family. Our fluency isn’t great. “C u l8r”—see you later—caught us off guard. LOL (Remember, grammar queens, no need for a period after text acronyms. Exclamation points, however, are just fine. OMG!)

A new study confirms what we suspected. The more kids send and receive texts, the worse their grammar skills become. IMHO

Sure, linguists will tell you language is very dynamic. We coin words, change definitions, expand usage, and watch popularity wax and wane. But, 70 percent of all text language is just plain incorrect English.

This is worrisome because text acronyms have become words for kids. Parents report that their kids are using these acronyms in their school assignments more than 60 percent of the time. And, then there is autocorrect, which can lead to an incomprehensible sentence and is creating a generation who can’t even spell common words.

We text. We are oldies yet we have embraced change! We break grammar rules all the time, knowing we are ignoring them for artistic and creative purposes. We start sentences with conjunctions…a no-no. Conjunctions include the words and, but, because, while, until, although, or if that are supposed to link sentences, clauses, phrases, or other words.

Okay, okay, okay. We swore we wouldn’t get into this fray. But, (see…we did it again…started a sentence with a conjunction) there are certain errors that are like fingernails on a chalkboard to us. Hmmm, we need to find another analogy since chalkboards, like rotary phones, won’t resonate with anyone but us oldies.

Please humor us! And, please correct the younger crowd when they screw up.

Misuse of the words fewer and less is really common and drives us nuts. Fewer is quantitative. It refers to things you can count, like mistakes in grammar or car windows. Use less as a modifier when it refers to something you can’t count, like rain or snow. We are constantly yelling at the television when ads and talk hosts misuse these words, shouting fewer when they have used less. And, these are the “guys” making the big bucks?

Irregardless is not a word! If you type it, your spell check tool will underline it in red. That should be a hint. It’s simply regardless.

Incorrect possessives have caused us to deface public and private property. The possessive is a word used to show who or what something belongs to. Ooops! Just ended a sentence with a preposition. Forgive us! Here’s the rule: always add an apostrophe “s” unless it’s a plural that ends in “s.” In that case, just add the apostrophe and nix the added “s.” That’s the Joneses’ house.

Think about the ladies’ room or the women’s dressing room, not the ladies’s room or the womens’ room. We took out our magic marker when we noted a restaurant had labeled the girls’ room the girl’s room. Oh, so this precludes more than one “girl” entering a bathroom with four stalls? FTFY! For those not in the know, that’s text for fixed that for you.

Lastly, spelling should count, too. Remember exiting is just the letter “c” away from exciting.

Our wrinkled wisdom for today? Good grammar and spelling still count, not just orally—as in spoken aloud, but in thank you notes, resumes, and especially business proposals and emails. We’d love to include tweets, but we would be wasting our breath. If you are emailing your boss, reread so autocorrect doesn’t foul something up. And perhaps most intriguing, we recently read that bad grammar can knock you off someone’s dating site picks!! Hotness points are given for knowing how to correctly use the homonyms their, they’re, and there. Bad grammar might keep you from meeting the one! Yes, sex could be a powerful motivator for all ages.