Punctuation (or “Where did the comma’s go ?”)

“The idea of a revolutionary vanguard dedicated to bringing into being a world without rulers or ruled has no precedents in Isamic thought.”

“The Romantic belief that the world can be reshaped by an act of will is as much a part of the modern world as the Enlighten-ment ideal of a universal civilisation based on reason.”

“The Positivists believed that as societies came to based on science they were bound to become more alike.”

The above 3 sentences are from Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern. They weren’t the only 3 I could have picked – there were many many more such examples in this book. Now this book is, in parts, quite hard going. Not only because the author uses some very big words when several smaller ones would have done the job, but also because of the issues it covers. So it takes some concentration. But when you have to repeatedly re-read some sentences because they are not punctuated, it becomes a chore, and it starts to confuse the issue.
I have gone on about bad spelling on blogs before, but I’m increasingly seeing, in print, a distinct lack of proper punctuation. A Comma is IMPORTANT.

A comma is not just ‘where you take a breath’ (as I was taught), it also defines the issues within a sentence, it confers ownership of thoughts / ideas, it gives a sentence a structure.
Without that structure, the reader has to decide, for themselves, where the comma should be, and they could get it wrong. And if they do, isn’t that the fault of the author ?

A distinction does need to be made though. Another book I read recently – A Million Little Pieces – also had a severe lack of punctuation in parts. Those were the parts when he was thinking, when he was feeling intense emotion, when drug withdrawal was making him feel like death. In that case, using punctuation slows down something which is happening rapidly and with a deep intensity. Having a sentence such as “I wanted to inhale it, breathe it, suck it deep into my lungs, feel the explosion though my veins” does not, for me, work as well as the unpunctuated line “I wanted to inhale it breathe it suck it deep into my lungs feel the explosion though my veins”. Punctuation kills the intensity. But the difference here is that James Frey (the author) was writing about a deeply personal experience, and when writing about other events, the punctuation was fine. That contrast again served to increase the effect of his writing.

But John Gray (author of the first book) is not writing about emotional issues. He is using history, economics, religion and politics to convey his views. He wants his work to be taken seriously, he may even want his views to shape that which is to come, but leaving out the comma detracts from his work.
Journalists are guilty of this, online sources equally so, and I, for one, find it annoying and an obstacle to reading what could otherwise be good writing.

Bring back the comma !

13 thoughts on “Punctuation (or “Where did the comma’s go ?”)

  1. You can have fun with commas. Take the following example; Mark dropped a deadly needle in his arm. Or alternatively. Mark dropped, a deadly needle in his arm.

    And I know it’s off topic but I thought you might like this anyway..

    Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae.
    The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm.
    Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.

    I agree :)

  2. People no longer seem to be taught the use of punctuation. It bugs me. Commas are fantastic little tools in language, but when they’re misused they can really fuck up what you’re trying to say.

    Oh and by the way… the word “commas” does not have an apostrophe ;)

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