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In Praise of the Humble Comma

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Kasey Williams

on 24 October 2013

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Transcript of In Praise of the Humble Comma

About the Author:
Pico Iyer
In Praise of the Humble Comma
Quotes from the Text (cont.)
A period has the blinking finality of a red light; the comma is a flashing yellow light that asks us only to slow down; and the semicolon is a stop sign that tells us to ease gradually to a halt, before gradually starting up again. (P.2)
A run-on sentence, its phrases piling up without division, is as unsightly as a sink piled high with dirty dishes. (P.3)
Punctuation is the notation in the sheet music in the sheet music of our own words, telling us when to rest, or when to raise our voices; it acknowledges that the meaning of our discourse, as of any symphonic composition, lies not in the units but in the pauses, the pacing and the phrasing. (P.5)
The purpose of this essay is to define punctuation in general and the comma specifically.
Quotes from the Text
The gods, they say, give breath, and they take it away. But the same could be said–could it not?–of the humble comma. (P.1)
Add it to the present clause, and, all of a sudden, the mind is, quite literally, given pause to think; take it out if you wish or forget it and the mind is deprived of a resting place. (P.1)
Punctuation marks are the road signs placed along the highway of our communication–to control speeds, provide directions and prevent head on collisions. (P.2)
Born in England
Raised in California
Went to Magdalen College (Oxford), Eton College, and Harvard University
Works as a freelance journalist
Has contributed to publications such as Time Magazine, Harper's Magazine, and The New York Review of Books
Quotes form the Text (cont.)
Punctuation is the way one bats one's eyes, lowers one's voice or blushes demurely. Punctuation adjusts the tone and color and volume till the feeling comes into perfect focus... (P.5)
Every child knows the menace of a dropped apostrophe (the parent's "Don't do that" shifting into the more slowly enunciated "Do not do that")... (P.6)
Sometimes, of course, our markings may be simply a matter of
. (P.7)
Popping in a comma can be like slipping on the necklace that gives an outfit quiet elegance, or like catching the sound of running water that complements, as it completes, the silence of a Japanese landscape. (P.7)
Quotes from the Text (cont.)
A world that has only periods is a world without
. It is a world without shade. It has a music without sharps and flats. It is a martial music. It has a jackboot rhythm. (P.8)
And no one scans a letter so closely as a lover, searching for its small print, straining to hear its nuances, its gasps, its sighs and hesitations, poring over the secret messages that lie in every cadence. (P.9)
Punctuation, in fact, is a labor of love. Which brings us back, in a way, to gods.
True or False
1. Inflection means change in pitch or tone.
2. Aesthetics is the study of commas.
3. The author believes that commas are underrated.
4. In the essay a semicolon is compared to a red light.
5. Punctuation is a signature of culture.

True or False
1. Inflection means change in pitch or tone.
2. Aesthetics is the study of commas.
3. The author believes that punctuation marks are underrated.
4. In the essay a semicolon is compared to a red light.
5. Punctuation is a signature of culture.
Full transcript