Friday, March 18, 2016

THERE'S A COMMA IN THE MIDDLE OF MY MONITOR

Sometimes it appears in the middle of a sentence making the meaning of my words suspect.  Or it will appear on top of a word as if to help me cross my t's and dot my i's.  Once it came between the t and s in its, which would have been fine if I had been using it as a contraction, but I wasn't.  Once it even appeared as an apostrophe following the word 'your,' and if you think that didn't cause some trouble, your tastes probably don't run to commas, contractions, or apostrophes--and you're bored with all this stuff anyway.

Another time that wicked little speck appeared in the last of a series, one space before the 'and.'  I suppose it thinks being an Oxford comma gives it some form of distinction. The Oxford University Press gives some battle lines HERE for those addicted to words and their punctuational parents.  
"Alarmed, annoyed, and distraught . . . "

I was taught that since the comma represents the word 'and' in the rest of the series, it should not be used before the last item unless the 'and' is dropped: the comma in that situation causing an 'and and' interpretation.  That can give rise to some interesting sentences.  Here is one sentence that makes me lose that argument. "I need to thank my parents, my sister and the Reverend Paul."  I suppose we could say, "I need to thank my parents, my sister, the Reverend Paul," but we've become accustomed to the last 'and' so the resulting sentence gives us no clue that the end is so close. (Example stolen from above reference.)  

I like this quote from the above source, too. "The Queen's English Society agrees that "there is no need for a comma before the 'and' unless the sense demands it."" Don't you just KNOW how that little comma in the middle of my screen would have messed up the sentence preceding this one if I hadn't done such a good job of messing it up myself?


Back to the comma in the middle of my screen: it has been known to create run-on sentences and rejected numbers. 10,00 looks more like a subset of numbers, certainly not a thousand. And I can't begin to tell you how many times that piece of print has begun a quote within a quote never to end it, making already confusing prose even more so. 


Of course, there is the title of the recent Eats, Shoots and Leaves, by Lynne Truss. It uses my oft non-use of a comma in the penultimate item of a series.  She also suggests as quoted in the above link to the Oxford University Press, concerning those who have different opinions about the use or non-use of the Oxford comma, "I'll just say this: Never get between these people when drink has been taken."  

In a sentence,  'My, thousands of dollars have been spent on foolishness."  makes me the reporter of, and absolves me of any participation in, the misuse of  money. That one saved me from ridicule, but it is nevertheless incorrect to the incident because I have spent 'my thousands of dollars on foolishness.'


JUST SO YOU KNOW:  I  read grammar books for fun. Dictionaries and etymology intrigue me.  Maybe that's weird, maybe I can blame it on three years of high school Latin, but I'm not alone.  You would be surprised at the number of people who collect, list, and organize words and phrases into non-fiction books and the number of people who collect them.  I have many in my library from forty years of collecting,  

Some of the books-about-words listed below I found in antique shops or old bookstores and some I bought new. Some I read immediately and others I bought for some anticipated need for reference, but I have used them all--and there are others.  I chose randomly here and listed them by year, and I included at the end the two handbooks I used in college. 

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If you want me to put you in my will, let me know and I'll leave one of these books to you.

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The Verse by the Side of the Road, The Story of the Burma-Shave  Signs and  Jingles with all 600 of the roadside rhymes, Frank  Rowsome, Jr., 1965  (Bill Jones will want this one.)

1000 Most Important Words, Norman Schur, 1982

New York Times Everyday Readers Dictionary for Misunderstood,  Misused and Mispronounced Words, Revised Edition, Laurance  Urdang, 1985

Why Do We Say It, The Stories Behind the Words, Expressions and Cliches We Use, Castle Books, 1985

Loose Cannons, Red Herrings, and other Lost Metaphors, Robert  Claiborne, 1988

The Play of Words, Fun and Games for Language Lovers, Richard  Lederer, 1990

Woe is I, The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English, in Plain  English, Patricia T. O'Conner, 1996

Lapsing Into a Comma, a Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That  Can Go Wrong in Print--and How to Avoid Them,  Bill Walsh, 2000 

Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words, Bill Bryson, 2002 

Common Phrases and Where They Come From, Myron Korach,  2002  -- You can't put this one down. 

The Grouchy Grammarian, Thomas Parrish, 2002 

Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss, 2003

Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, 2003

The Facts-on-File Dictionary of Cliches, Christine Ammer, Second  Edition, 2006

A Dash of Style, The Art and Mastery of Punctuation,  Noah Lukeman,  2006

Hash House Lingo,  Jack Smiley, 2012 --This one is a hoot if you've ever been a soda jerk or a short-order cook.

Embracing the Pun and Promoting It,  Bob Greenman,  a fun and informative article in the Visual Thesaurus, posted online on February 22, 2011.  Click  HERE to read it.   You'll learn a new word - paronomasia.  Here's just a bit of what he had to say about puns:
    "Puns -- quality puns, at least -- are not the lowest form of humor, but among the highest, involving imagination, creativity and wit.  Punning is a natural act of people who like to play with words and who have the verbal dexterity to make unusual word associations. Their minds work like one-armed bandits in gambling casinos with plums and cherries and oranges spinning madly upon someone's utterance, searching for the right combination to connect on a pun.  Speaking more scientifically, imagine a brain scan of a pun in the making, all those activated and excited synapses and neurons."  

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Reliable handbooks -- 

Harbrace Handbook of English, 1941 Hardback Edition, John C. Hodges   Find Hardback USED for as little as a penny plus postage.   New, 18th Edition, 2012, on Amazon, is more than $100.  No PAPERBACK is listed,

Harbrace College Handbook, 1946 Hardback Edition, John C. Hodges. This also has the hardback  USED  listed at a penny plus postage from various Amazon vendors.  The one PAPERBACK is listed at $747.78.
  
Needs research to find out why. Are you game?


Obviously, old paperback Harbrace Handbooks are valuable I would like to read anyone's take on this--a little data journey into the history of these books, especially if you have one! (One source, The University of Tennessee, News and Events for March 7, 2012, is HERE. Original author John C. Hodges was a professor in the UT English Department.)

All the other Harbrace books, both paperback and hardback are very cheap.  Without even considering the money angle, my opinion is that Harbrace is old and very valuable as a reference. 

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And don't forget The Chicago Manual of Style, The MLA, and Strunk and White.

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Okay, there are too many to list, but this one is special ---

Les Bons Mots, How to Amaze Tout le Monde with Everyday French   Eugene Ehrlich,  1997 -- I can now go into a French restaurant and ask for a vin rouge pas cher, or an eapchay edray ineway, but there is no French restaurant in Athens and Pig Latin is lost on all but the ancient

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This one I'm ordering now.

Eggcorns finally get their due in a bountiful book of malapropisms, going to hell in a hen basket,  Mark Peters, advertised and promoted online in The Visual Thesaurus. Click on the author for a link to The VT.

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Hang in there, you're almost to the end.
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Here are some I don't have (YET)  listed in the Visual Thesaurus under 
    DOG EARED  Books We Love 

"Spinglish": A Smorgasbord of Evasive, Duplicitous Delights,  Mark Peters

Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show,  Geoffrey Nunberg

Political Dictionary, William Safire

Dog Whistles, Walk-backs, and Political Handshakes, Decoding the Jargon, Slang, and Bluster of American Political Speech,  Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark

The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics,  John Pollack 

It's Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Cliches,   Orin Hargraves

From Selfie to Skedaddle: Words of the Generations,  Mark Peters

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 I found a one dollar bill in The Grouchy Grammarian.

Grammarly software told me to put a comma beside 'Shoots' in the title of Lynne Truss's book, and called it a 'critical issue.'  We know where they stand.

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BTW, that comma on my computer monitor?  It was a flyspeck. I left it there to remind me to write about the small stuff. 


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Whew,  the end!