Home » Writing » How to Be an Anal Grammarian: Enforce the Use of the Personal Comma

How to Be an Anal Grammarian: Enforce the Use of the Personal Comma

Last Updated on March 31, 2019

I’ll be the first to admit that what I’m about to bitch about is relatively minor — compared to so many other world events, at least. Even though it all boils down to perhaps 15 pixels, I’m adamant that the Web — albeit a fantabulous conduit for information and ideas — is destroying our literacy. And that fact is no more blatant than in use (or lack thereof) of the personal comma. (Okay, instant messengers are far more to blame, but those addicted to that media were illiterate from birth. See: K. Fed.)

This, the “personal comma,” is a phrase I’ve made up, as far as I know, but I’ve based it on the “personal ‘a,'” the preposition used in Spanish anytime a person’s proper name comes up. In English, I’m transliterating it similarly. Bear with me.

“Good luck Joe!” This phrase, punctuated as is, actually means that Joe is a source of good luck (minus the clausal hyphen). Yes, I’m being anal. But, again, bear with me. Or bare with me, if that’s your style. Similarly, if the sentence were written “Bite me Joe” (as opposed to the properly punctuated “Bite me, Joe”), it would mean that some Irishman was hoping you’d sink your teeth into his pappy.

Flickr greetings without comma, circa 2008

It pains me every time I sign into Flickr and see the grammatically incorrect greeting, which just a second ago was “Bangawoyo StJenna!” (“Hello Jenna” in Korean.) Yes, I cringed just writing that. I shudder to think that the homepage of a major website has such a HUGE glaring error greeting you with a smile. (I’ll refrain — for now — on commenting on the effusive use of exclamation points! Two in a row!)

Update: It’s 2019 and Flickr has finally fixed their grammar:

Flickr greeting fixed (comma added)

There are way too many pop-culture examples of the personal comma being omitted in writing. While I’m currently too drunk to think of very many specific examples, one or two come to mind: “Crunch me Cap’n” (a slogan I found on a box of Cap’n Crunch — admittedly a cereal marketed to the illiterate; without the comma, it means that some pirate wants you to bite his first in command).

From the Huffington Post: “Thanks for the warning Scott” (I’m guessing some sailor — pirate, perhaps? — shot a guy named Scott over the bow of a ship as a warning to would-be pillagers).

From the few examples I could wrangle, it appears that pirates are to blame for our lack of grammatical awareness. But if a show as insipid as Yes, Dear can punctuate correctly, why can’t the rest of the populace?

As the Facebook group Let’s Eat Grandma says, punctuation saves lives.

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