Friday, September 15, 2006

The Difference a Couple of Commas Make

A student recently turned in an exercise containing the following bit of inadequately punctuated dialogue:

"Why fuck guys, it's so cold my nipples are never gonna unharden."

It is a very different statement from the one she intended to make, which was this:

"Why, fuck, guys, it's so cold my nipples are never gonna unharden."

For that matter, you also get a different effect when you write "Why, fuck guys" or "Why fuck, guys."

A good many students arrive in my class already knowing how to use commas, which is what you hope for college students majoring in creative writing or English. For the ones who don't, I sometimes despair of persuading them that they must develop the ability to make what they intend to write match what they actually do write. But examples like this, which are funny and potentially embarrassing, help.

And I don't remember what part of speech the "guys" is there, but when you say someone's name, you need to offset it with a comma as well. There's a big difference between "I don't know Bored Dominatrix" and "I don't know, Bored Dominatrix," or "Let's eat, Grandma" and "Let's eat Grandma."

It's a constant struggle to convince some of them that this matters in the first place, or convince them that once they learn the rules, they need to proofread their work before they give it to me to read. I do what I can to explain the concepts, like I singing what I remember of the Interjection song from School House Rock to help them understand why "fuck" should be off-set by commas. I also have an extended analogy I came up with in which I compare typos to boogers--like commas, they're just little things, those slimy bits of nose mucus, not nearly as offensive as turds! Nonetheless, you're supposed to keep your own out of other people's sight as much as possible. It's not OK to sneeze and let the contents of your nose go any and everywhere, and it's not OK to fail to proofread your work.

10 Comments:

Blogger C.L. Hanson said...

I love that song!!!

The grammar rock ones were always my favorites. :D

11:22 AM  
Blogger Dale said...

I love going back to school when you share these items.

6:41 PM  
Blogger spike said...

I have been told that I overuse semicolons. Why insert a fancy semicolon when a perfectly serviceable full stop period will do? Due to an annoying injury to my right pinky, I find them harder to type right now and it may help rid me of this conceit.

However, would this sentence also work well with a semicolon? That is, "Why fuck guys; it's so cold my nipples are never gonna unharden." Of course, it really calls for a question mark: "Why fuck guys? It's so cold etc."

5:45 AM  
Blogger Dale said...

I could use a lesson on the use of semicolons sometime. I think I underuse them.

10:34 AM  
Blogger spike said...

heh heh...it's easy, Dale.

I could use a lesson on the use of semicolons sometime; I think I underuse them.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Bored Dominatrix said...

I love semi-colons; they're practically my favorite bit of punctuation.

They're like not as final as a period: you use them when you have two complete clauses (they both have subjects/verbs and could stand alone as sentences) but want to show that they are linked somehow.

Colons are also really cool, too: they show that what follow is somehow an explanation of or commentary on what has come before.

7:42 AM  
Blogger Dale said...

I appreciate the lesson Spike and B.D.; I'm definitely going to try and incorporate more of them. Does that work then? :-)

6:17 PM  
Blogger Bored Dominatrix said...

I appreciate the lesson Spike and B.D.; I'm definitely going to try and incorporate more of them. Does that work then? :-)

it does indeed; I look forward to seeing when and where semi-colons appear in your already scintillating prose.

8:46 PM  
Blogger Reese said...

Slightly off topic, Bored, but my school is apparently in the initial process of looking for a new "tenure track" professor of creative writing and English, someone with a specialization in one of a big list of areas - and I seem to recall feminist theory or gender theory was on that list.

You should apply. We could totally hang out!

9:02 PM  
Blogger smeyer240 said...

Yeh whenever I put in a comma I read over the sentence to here in my head if it sounds alright

11:25 PM  

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