Yikes! There's a Comma Under My bed!


So, yeah, having learned two languages since childhood (Arabic and French), I decided my book should be written in a third language: English.

"English? Piece o' cake," told me Pablo, the gardener at our apartment complex. "Is easy, man, you know, everyone, his mother, his sister, his uncle, his friends, they all speak English, except the pilots in the plane: they speak in plane English–no one understands, so yeah, write in English."

So, I did. I figured my kids are growing up speaking English, so what have I got me to lose?

But, as with every good deal, there's always a catch, and in this case, it's this pesky little symbol called a comma.

What's a comma, you may ask? A grammarian favorite torture tool, especially when one is switching from French to English. You might learn to think in a different language, you may capture the nuanced distinction between an ironic, caustic, flippant, sarcastic, or sardonic laughter, and you may even learn the proper use of cockalorum and lickspittle, but that does not mean you know how to properly use a comma.

There are at least ten basic rules that govern the use of comma in the English language and at least fifteen rules in French AND THEY ARE NOT THE SAME!

Did you know that Arabic, like most Semitic languages, had no use for punctuation? The comma slipped in unnoticed with the first fast-food chain in the Middle-East.

Did I say the rules in French and English are not the same?


Here's what I've tried thus far:

1. Brute Force Approach: load your gun with commas and spray your text. Works great if you want to lose your sanity, your copy editor, and your friends.

2. Lean, Mean Attack: No commas whatsoever unless your hit the comma key on the keyboard by mistake: your copy editor will kill you.

3. Sleuth and Deuce: slip a comma here and there to make it look like you know what you are doing. Your copy editor will bring you back from the dead and kill you again.

4. Tears and Sears: Admit ignorance, plead with your copy editor for help, and if all fails, buy her a new coffee pot from Sears (there's always one on special).

5. Divide and Bonkers: learn the first rule concerning commas well. Apply it consistently. When you have mastered it, learn the second rule and so on and so forth. The good news is that you won't have to worry about any of the rules past rule number 6: you'll loose your sanity right around rule 5, unless, of course, you're a grammarian–that is a super-intelligent alien from outer space stranded in the United States–the only spot in the universe where aliens do get stranded (with the exception of Doctor Who, of course).

6. Telegraphic Style: write like this. All the time. No commas. No long sentences. No sentences at all. Robots will love you. Your copy editor will not. She will resign from her job.

7. Rhythmic Writing: Hold your breath and start writing. When you are about to asphyxiate, drop a comma and breathe. That worked for me, but my copy editor is hyper ventilating.

8. Reuse Madness: Grab fifty comma-sanitized long sentences. Split them into three sentential parts (that's 150 now), and randomly combine these parts together for a whopping 3,370,000 well formed sentences! You could write ten books with this treasure trove! Your copy editor will love you, your readers will kill you.

9. Subliminal Message: write with no punctuation and publish your manuscript on a background covered ever so subtly with commas and let the reader's brain set the commas where the reader needs them, so therefore, you are now free to write, your copy editor is free from you and your readers are free to ask for a refund. 

10. United, We Stand: Surround yourself with people who love you, who can put up with the vagaries of your serendipitous usage of commas: people willing to shoulder the heavy load of a comma on their shoulders and you might get somewhere. After all, the truest measure of friendship is a well placed comma that does not split nor blend, but allows the words to stand shoulder to shoulder for clarity of thought and well intended meaning.