OPINION COLUMNS

Punctuation, celebrate responsibly

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, September 8, 2018
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My son and I were watching “Avengers: Infinity War” recently when he made an observation about the fate of one of the characters.

I’ll try not to spoil it, but somebody dies.

Brian Knox

Upon the apparent death of this character, my 7-year-old son said, “Is she dead? She’ll come back to life. She’s just in a comma.”

Two things: one, as I wrote in a recent column, I’m starting to venture into the PG-13 rating world with my son. I knew certain spoilers about the movie, but it turns out his older cousin already revealed how the movie ends, so he was prepared.

Second, yes, he said “comma” as in “,” and not “coma” as in “prolonged state of deep unconsciousness” which is what he likely intended to say.

As a journalist and someone who minored in English, I probably should have quickly corrected him. Instead, I whipped out my phone to write down what he said to add to the notebook of humorous things my kids say that began many years ago with my older child.

But it did lead me to think about the importance of punctuation, particularly with the comma. It may seem like punctuation isn’t as big a deal as the words around them, but it is often crucial.

Here’s an example:

“Time to eat dad” has a very different meaning from “Time to eat, dad.”

Unless you are a cannibal, the first sentence is incorrect. And if you are a cannibal, you’ve got bigger problems than a poor grasp of punctuation.

I recently placed a note in Update and then received a rather panicked email from the person who sent me the information. Due to a misplaced comma in the submission, I interpreted the sentence wrong and rewrote it to basically say the opposite of what was intended.

Whoops.

There are way too many comma rules to cover in a single column, and unless you are a grammar geek, you probably wouldn’t want to read about them, anyway. Just know that simply mentioning “Oxford comma” around some people will lead to a rather loud, lengthy and animated discussion. And if you want to know where I stand on the issue, I just told you in comma-speak in the previous sentence.

If you do enjoy celebrating proper punctuation, there’s a day just for you coming up in just a couple of weeks. Sept. 24 is the annual National Punctuation Day.

You can visit nationalpunctuationday.com to find links to punctuation explanations, photos of misused punctuation in real-life settings (there’s one whole website dedicated to misused punctuation on cakes) and even a recipe for punctuation meatloaf.

Do grammar geeks know how to party or what?

The great thing about punctuation is the hard and fast rules that keep us grammatically correct. Comic book movies don’t seem to always follow the rules of nature.

Maybe the movie character is simply in a coma, or perhaps even in a “comma.” Since this is a comic book movie, and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that a seemingly “dead” character can be brought back to life, perhaps, like the comma sometimes indicates, there is more to the story yet to come.

Brian Knox is the Messenger special projects editor.

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