Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Grammar Absurdities: Overworked and Underpaid
If a comma were a person, I’m pretty sure it would join a union and go on strike. The Writer’s Digest Grammar Desk Reference—yes, even though this series bashes grammar a bit, I respect my English pubs and flip through them regularly—has an entire chapter dedicated to the comma’s usage. 33 pages! When I browse those passages, it seems to me the comma is the Krazy Glue that patches our language together because it’s otherwise such a mess. So that sentence doesn’t work? Throw a comma in there. That’ll hold it.
A while back, I attended a workshop that was put on by a grammar scholar (she held a master’s degree in English). She spent forty minutes on commas. And according to my records, was wrong about them on several counts. She said that authors overuse them and presented an example close to this:
Angela Smith, literary agent for Writers Farm, is looking for new authors.
The scholar changed the sentence to this, stating it didn’t need commas:
Angela Smith literary agent for Writers Farm is looking for new authors.
Well…her way of stating it still came across clearly to me. But I know that grammar books teach otherwise as this part ‘literary agent for Writers Farm’ can be called either a parenthetical clause or an appositive. Take your pick. When I consulted my Elements of Style by Strunk and White, it kind of agreed with the scholar, basically stating that unless Angela were the only literary agent, one should not offset the title with commas. This is the point in which you strum your closed, humming lips with your finger as if it were you, not the rules, that’s crazy. Just think. There might be editors and agents out there that breezily think commas should be excluded and you were trying to do it right!
When I left the workshop, I thought about how one could rub out commas in several cases and the sentences would still make sense.
In the morning I went to the store.
Our good grammar police state that a comma should follow morning, but why? You see? Simply because you rearranged the sentence? The commas must be pretty hacked off at management by now who keep using them as Krazy Glue.
A change of subject, if I may…
Knee deep in a manuscript last week, I wrote a sentence that rolled like this:
Bill had had more guns pointed at him than he could remember.
Great. We all know that you should avoid using a word twice in a sentence. And twice in a row—mortifying! So I dutifully went to the rewording board. Then it occurred to me that this wasn’t my fault. Some Einstein or group of them, decided to give ‘had’ more than one meaning. Check this out. If the number four equaled llll and also lllllllllll, what kind of havoc do you think that would wreak on accounting systems? Do you think your paycheck would ever be accurate? Then why did all these English big brains pull this crap with our language—especially when they could have made up a new word for the past perfect had? Right here and now, I propose this as a fix:
Shnorkled is to replace ‘had’ in all past perfect usages from here on out. Go ahead and click on your find and replace tool in your word processor and change them all.
Bill shnorkled had more guns pointed at him than he could remember.
The ever opinionated E.C. Stacy, author of steamy romances like New Cougar in Town and Another Cougar in Town