Sunday, April 06, 2008

the pause & the comma

One the examplars I remember on the use of commas was the fact that
The hairy-nosed wombat eats roots & leaves.
The placement of a comma after “eats” creates another fact, this time about the sexual habits of the marsupial, if “roots” is used in the Australasian sense of sexual intercourse.
The hairy-nosed wombat eats, roots & leaves.
(& an aside—oh the foibles of a senile memory where the things that caught your eye when young are as if they never went away tho you haven’t thought about them for fifty years—bringing into play the U.S. use of “rooting” as a synonym for “cheering on”; a line from a U.S. news magazine—most probably TIME—describing how Cambridge University lost its annual boat race with rival Oxford “despite the rooting of ex-Cambridge cox Antony Armstrong-Jones & his fiancée, Princess Margaret”.)

The comma is a formal punctuation mark, an interruption of the meaning, a break before or isolating another thought or phrase, tho oft not recognized as such in speech. The pause is a thing of one’s own choosing, in time & spacing, not usually specified in writing tho I & others / following on from Olson “(wishing) a pause so light it hardly separates the words, yet does not want a comma....follow (the poet) when (they) use a symbol the typewriter has readily to hand”.

All of this prerambling because, interested in seeing how Barack Obama comes across away from the rally, still on the platform politicking but as a talkshow guest, I watched him on cable. & was intrigued, in a series of statements about “what the American Public want”, to hear him say the following
they want healthcare if they get sick they want the best schools for their kids
no doubt conceived with a comma after “sick” but spoken without it, & with the only pause in the words inserted after “healthcare”.

I’m rooting for him, btw.


Blogger Jordan said...

Very funny that way down south, the panda becomes a wombat. I grew up in the Midwest hearing: "A panda eats shoots and leaves."

10:59 PM  

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