Monday, May 16, 2011

Comma Comma Comma Comma Come On ...

Someone else noticed Kim Brooks's ign'ant Salon post on our youth's inability to write, namely Dennis Baron at the Web of Language. His take on the matter is a real treat:

As for comma misuse, well, just look no further than the United States Constitution. Originalists see every word and punctuation mark of that founding document as evidence of the Framers’ intent. Constitutional commas set off syntactic units or separate items in a list, just as we do today (though don’t look for consistency of punctuation in the Constitution: sometimes there’s a comma before the last item in a list, and sometimes there isn’t). But what does the good-writers-understand-commas crowd make of the fact that the Framers and their eighteenth-century peers also used commas to indicate pauses for breath, to cover up drips from the quill pens they used for writing, or like some college students today, for no apparent reason at all?
Baron gives plenty of examples, and notes that Ms. Brooks would also have to red-pencil much of the Constitution for spelling "errors" (chuse for choose), pronoun disagreement, erratic capitalization, and (horrors!) it's for its. Article I, Section 9:

No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it's inspection Laws.
No wonder we're falling behind the Chinese, with Founding Fathers who didn't know how to write English, the very bedrock of communication!

The comments, with Baron's responses, are worth reading too.