Why I Don’t Care About Commas

BIQNbrsCIAEUWCUThe ceremony for my 25th college reunion was held in Graham Chapel, one of my favorite places on campus. I saw the Violent Femmes play here, back in the day. They put lights outside that enormous stained-glass window and made it part of the show. Amazing memory.

I thought I’d post about my reunion today, but it turns out I’m still processing what ended up being an unexpectedly emotional experience. On my way there, I was joking about writing a reunion book so I could deduct the trip and now I’m thinking what I have to say might end up being something like that. Perhaps this long-time set-aside-to-ferment narrative nonfiction book.

We’ll see.

Also  on the way there, and while I was there, and on the way back, I worked on my content revisions and line edits for Rogue’s Possession. This is my least favorite round of edits and most hated part of the whole writing gig. It’s painstaking and requires great attention to detail at the point when you’re completely Sick To Death of the story. You’ve been over stuff so many times that it all seems trite and dull.

With edits, too, there’s a constant struggle to determine what the right decision should be. My editor wants it one way. I want it another way. How can I please us both? More – it becomes this internal tug-of-war in sorting out whether I’m just resisting not having it MY WAY or if I have a solid foundation for fighting the alteration of my original text. This is exacerbated by the whole “art” thing, where a lot of times I can’t rationalize or articulate my reasons for sticking to my guns. I just FEEL it and there lies the boggy territory of sounding like a diva and being Difficult To Work With.

So, I do this rarely. But sometimes I feel I have to dig in my heels and say no. I want to keep this character. Or I like this line. The scientist in me hates not providing a logical defense, but the artist is happy. Believe me, Artist Me is much more difficult to placate than Scientist Me.

For this reason, I accept most edits. Especially punctuation and grammar.

You know those things people are always sending around Facebook, showing why commas are important? Never amuse me. Especially the ones championing the Oxford comma. For those who are not punctuation-obsessed, the Oxford comma is the one preceding an “and” in a series. It’s considered optional by most rational people these days. Thus it can be “apples, oranges, and bananas” or “apples, oranges and bananas.”

Yes, Mom, I know what the nuns told you. It’s optional now.

Personally, I like fewer commas. The Oxford comma is a waste of a keystroke in my world. Even other comma games, like those demonstrated in the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, leave me cold. The title is a kind of word play, thus the panda image. The comma placement supposedly differentiates between whether a panda “eats shoots and leaves” of plants or “eats, shoots and leaves,” suggesting it might dine on the plant, then shoot someone and take off for parts unknown. It’s a cute example, but this kind of this drives me crazy. Nobody would seriously believe in that context that the panda is shooting a gun. If they are that easily confused, then they likely have bigger problems. I’ve also got issues with a “zero tolerance approach” to pretty much anything at all.

However.

I do understand that some people care about these things. I have an old friend who’s been a computer coder all his life and it makes him crazy if I fail to close my parentheses. Yes, it’s a careless mistake on my part. For him, that missing parenthesis could mean a week of work sorting through code to determine why a program won’t run. This is more than panda antics to him.

Really, this matches my approach to most things, such as housework: whoever cares the most is responsible for doing it. You want a clean kitchen all the time? Knock yourself out! I don’t mind a few dishes in the sink. You HAVE to have an Oxford comma? Fine, whatever. I will never fight a comma placement. I just don’t care enough.

I save my caring for the REALLY important stuff.

Like keeping “laughed” as a dialogue tag.

I don’t see why I can’t have that.

<end rant

11 Replies to “Why I Don’t Care About Commas”

  1. I have to agree. I could care less about punctuation. Granted, I try to get it right to make my agent’s life easier and some of it makes me go, “Huh??” But in the broad scheme of things, I just don’t care.

  2. I refuse to rise to your bait and go on about how many ways your “end rant” tag is asymmetrical. I’ll just sit here in my corner, hugging my knees to my chest, and rocking back and forth.

  3. I do the best I can with punctuation. I do like the Oxford comma, in fact, I’ve never met a comma I didn’t like. But the punctuation rules I learned are so old, I don’t argue with anyone about commas. No period language is another thing entirely. If I show you these two words were not put together until 1874 and my book is placed in 1816, don’t argue with me.

    1. My CP told me that commas are like glitter and should be sprinkled liberally for decoration. You two would get along! I get that about period language. If you know your stuff like that, you get to be persnickety!

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