Comma Chameleon

I'm a man...

Do you suffer from a reptile dysfunction?

Let’s say you’re the Internet. You’re…big. There’s lots of stuff all over you, some of which is genuinely wonderful, but most of which isn’t. Some of your stuff is cute, some of it is poignant, some of it is funny, and some of it is just downright disturbing; sure, you got your start as a government research project, and it took years for you to become accessible to the media Giuseppe, but just like anything else that was initially conceived, funded, and maintained by the government, you could have turned out a lot worse. For the most part, you’re all right. So yay you.

Taking the good with the bad is something to which most of us have grown accustomed out of sheer necessity these days; whether it’s Jane, who finally moved into her dream apartment only to discover that her upstairs neighbor is the last practicing member of Riverdance and a home-based bagpipes instructor and the anti-Christ, or Jim, who finally met Miss Right, then found out at the most tender possible moment that she was actually Mr. Wong, life has a way of diluting the best with some of the not-so-best and oh-god-so-fucking-horrifying. Not that there’s anything askew with that, but you, my fine packet-switching, boob-Googling personification of the Internet friend, offer no exception to this aforementioned survival tactic; with you one’s got to accept the best along with the worst, or one might find oneself confined to a latex racquetball court before one turns 25.

Every Day Is Like Survival

Loving would be

My hair is absurd. Your argument is invalid.

The Internet might be the best thing to happen to humanity since the first Paleolithic yuckster inhaled a balloon full of helium and invented Cave Wall Chipmunk Shadow Puppet Theater, but it ain’t without its drawbacks. Chief among these is the fact that the exchange of information is still primarily accomplished with the written word, which quite frankly, most people brandish like a cudgel, repeatedly smashing it upon the cute ‘n cuddly baby seal heads of communication until all that remains is a sticky bouillabaisse of bad grammar, syntax, spelling, and punctuation for us to sift through on our own, and presumably, reconstruct into something resembling a coherent, identifiable thought. I used to bother with such impromptu linguistic forensics, crouching to thoughtfully inspect a throttled sentence fragment or a bludgeoned apostrophe in the hope of making sense of the senseless, like Quincy with a copy of The Elements of Style instead of whatever it was that he carried. I don’t do that anymore.

It’s not my responsibility to render other people’s thoughts fit for my own consideration. It’s not my job to make anyone else properly understood by parsing their shitty syntax and using my own personal Enigma machine to decipher their horrible spelling. Since thought and the expression of thought — which necessarily includes the expression of all emotion — is the very essence of humanity, the most gracious compliment that a person can give is the earnest consideration of someone else’s thoughts.

I got a fever, and the only prescription...

Guess what? I got a fever, and the only prescription…

When that consideration must be preceded by a short course in psycholinguistics in order to figure out what someone might be trying to say, I pass, thanks; I’ve never met someone who had something worthwhile to say, but who did not know how (or simply refused) to respectfully communicate. That means using punctuation, correct spelling, and proper grammar to the best of your ability. Some people just don’t know any better, and that’s fine, but when someone simply can’t be bothered to take the time to proofread something they’ve been paid for, I take it as a personal affront.

When I was in my early 20s I read something in a book by Dean Koontz that didn’t just change the way that I approached writing, it formed it. It put a concept in my head that wasn’t there before, namely the idea that there is absolutely no reason for a writer not to learn the rules of grammar, syntax, spelling, and punctuation, and that anyone who would presume to offer his thoughts to someone else for consideration had better do his damnedest to make sure that those thoughts are as clear, concise, and correct as possible. The book was How to Write Best-Selling Fiction, and it remains the single most influential book on writing that I’ve ever read for precisely this reason; a writer whom I greatly admired told me that there was no excuse not to know, and he was right. So I read. A lot. I paid attention to everything I read. I asked why. I remembered it. And so I learned.

You Come, and Go, You, Come, and Go

Come, at me, bro.

Come, at me, bro.

What I see every time that I read anything online — from professional articles to blogs to e-books to user comments and reviews — is a sharp lack of respect not only for the reader, but for language, and as such, for thought itself. To paraphrase George Carlin, we think in language, so the quality of our thoughts cannot possibly be any better than the quality of the language that we use to express them. Unexpressed brilliance might as well be dumb.

This is all I’m asking, Internet; learn the rules. At least a few of them. Learn the difference between the pronoun in “the squirrel busted its nuts,” and the contraction in “now it’s in a lot of fucking pain.” (“Its” is a possessive pronoun, “it’s” is a contraction of “it is.” That’s all there is to it!)

Maybe learn where the commas go, as not every adjective needs a comma after it. Generally, if adjectives can be separated by the word “and,” they need either “and” or a comma to follow them:

“It was a dark, stormy night when the squirrel busted its nuts.” (Note that “and” also works between “dark” and “stormy.”)

If “and” makes everything confusified, leave that sucker on the shelf:

“Having noticed that his brother Horace had intentionally left the rake in the grass, Binky the nut-busted squirrel vowed to fix his little and red wagon.” (That doesn’t quite work, so no comma is necessary.) How about:

“With his little red wagon firmly affixed to his scrawny rodent ass, Horace the rake-leaving squirrel threw a challenge at Binky. ‘Oh, it’s on, fuzznuts.'”  (Note that “it’s on, fuzznuts” could also be written as “it is about to occur, my brethren of the hirsute genitalia.”)

One more thing, Internet. I know you’re busy. I know you’ve got a lot on your mind what with the lolcats and memes and porn and all, but try to proofread your stuff once in a while. At least just do a quick scan to make sure that you’re not missing any vital components of a sentence, like punctuation and maybe a capital letter or two. Or spaces.

This goes double if you’re getting paid for what you’re writing, but really, everyone should shoot for this one if they want their words — their thoughts, their ideas — to be afforded as much consideration, and as much respect, as possible.


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