Sunday, September 5, 2010

Commas…vagrants of the punctuation world

Today’s blog is all about those little miscreants of mayhem and injustice- commas.

Sure, they look innocent, sitting there slightly curled as if to give a sense of comforting friendliness. “Come here,” they seem to say. “Pause a bit before the long trek of words before you.”

They don’t let you see them for what they really are.

Vagrants. Hooligans. Tramps.

Now, to be fair, in the history of the English language, commas were not always troublemakers. While lacking the solid respectability of the noble period, they still had their own set of fairly stable rules. People knew where to put a comma, and it was the same no matter what you were writing. Punctuation was the same regardless of it being a term paper, newspaper article, or the latest fiction book.
Alas, those days have changed. Below is the definition of a vagrant. I would argue that the comma has finally shown its true colors as one.

a person who wanders about idly and has no permanent home or employment; vagabond; tramp.
Law . an idle person without visible means of support, as a tramp or beggar.
a person who wanders from place to place; wanderer; rover.
wandering idly without a permanent home or employment; living in vagabondage: vagrant beggars.
of, pertaining to, or characteristic of a vagrant: the vagrant life.
wandering or roaming from place to place; nomadic.
(of plants) straggling in growth.
not fixed or settled, esp. in course; moving hither and thither: a vagrant leaf blown by the wind.

The important image here is “not fixed”. These little bits of ink, now have free range to move about hither and thither, landing where they will on the page, left only to the rules of the author. Justification can be made (and often is) by authors for using these marks where they will and how they will. “The rules have changed,” they cry as they find another comma has snuck off somewhere new and unique. “They don’t have to follow the same rules for fiction.” The beleaguered novelist whimpers as they defend the placing of yet another troublemaker.

However, these authors think the placement was their choice. I would argue we have all been put under the sway of punctuation with minds of its own. They want us to think we’ve changed our rules, that commas don’t have to follow them as stringently anymore. How do we know this hasn’t been some masterful stroke by the Comma Liberation Army? A chance for punctuation to run amuck everywhere?

I think we should all be concerned about the increasing vagrancy of commas, who knows what punctuation will next make a bid for freedom?


  1. Commas drive me nuts. I think they do have a mind of their own and they're off and running. Most of the time I use them appropriately, but sometimes I use them in places where they technically shouldn't be used. It seems there is a hesitation that won't come across without the comma. Other times, I leave off a comma that technically should be used but it just doesn't feel right. Then, I start second guessing myself.

  2. hehehehehhe.. DELIGHT*FULL !!!!!

  3. Thanks Anita and Lynne :)

    Anita- YES! See, you understand. They just run amuck, taking over perfectly good work and playing havoc with it. Sneaky little buggers ;).

  4. LOL, I love it! And there is the "...". OMG, I use it all the time, incorrectly and inappropriately, of course. LOL, punctuation is my enemy...all the time.


  5. Hee! It was worth it to see such a great use of "hither and thither" LOL

    Great blog Marie! :)


  6. Thanks Carla and Lisa!
    But see Carla? It's not your fault- it's them dang vagrant commas!

    Yes Lisa, I must say you really don't find enough chances to use hither and thither in today's writing (although ya know one of my Victorian characters would be perfect for such a wordage use!).

  7. LOL You are right, Marie. They are vagrants.

    CR Wood