Let Us Now Praise Famous Commas.
May 1, 2013
Once upon a time in another life in another place my comma just suddenly jumped up and ran away.
Left me in a lurch, lost, crippled with hundreds and hundreds of words still to write.
The helpful, essential little comma key there on the computer wouldn’t produce a comma.
Was it something I said?
Called the tech help desk. They didn’t know why my comma had pulled a Houdini.
Would be a good while before they could come check out my computer, solve the mystery.
So I was forced to bravely type on without it.
It was like writing in pitch dark.
To get a fuller appreciation of the value of the comma, and the struggle I was forced to go through, try reading the Gettysburg Address with the commas removed.
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate…we cannot consecrate…we cannot hallow…this ground. The brave men living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people by the people for the people shall not perish from the earth.
Let me catch my breath.
See what I mean?
Without commas, Ol’ Honest Abe would have been breathless when he finished.
Without commas, maybe his words would quickly have been forgotten, little noted, not long remembered.
And his words would have lost much of their impact.
Each comma gave his words the pause that impresses.
Each comma gave his listeners a time out for reflection.
The tiny comma has the power to hold back an incalculable number of words of all sizes until they can be fully absorbed, understood and appreciated and then release them to move on to the next group of words.
Remarkable, that little comma.
Yet so powerful, forceful, useful.
Can’t write without it.
Can’t adequately speak without it.
Come back, little comma.
O’, please, please come back.
And I will treat you right.
So take a bow, comma.
Take your deserved place in the sun.
Shine, comma, shine.