- Books, Literature, and Writing
I Have Stopped Hating Commas
Nine Sub-headings and Eighteen Pages!
The Chicago Manual of Style Has 18 Pages on Comma Usage
In The Chicago Manual of Style’s (CMS) chapter on punctuation, the commas section takes up the most space with nine subheadings covering eighteen pages. In its first paragraph, last line, I quote, “Effective use of the comma involves good judgement, with ease of reading the end in view.” That sentence leads me to believe that the use of commas is somewhat subjective. CMS tells us its purpose is to denote a slight pause in spoken context, but in formal prose “logical considerations come first.”
I’ve studied those eighteen pages on comma usage. It is a lot to remember. I still put one where I shouldn’t, or don’t put one where I should. My daughter with her college English degree does a lot of my pre-submission editing. She is the comma queen. She also proudly admits that she loved diagramming sentences.
I believe the rules have changed over the years. I am sixty-eight, so it have been decades since I was taught punctuation in school. For example the Oxford comma wasn’t taught when I was in grade school. Now its use seems preferred. You can find many blog posts on that subject alone. The CMS takes up two pages explaining the use of the serial comma.
I Came to Dislike Commas
I came to dislike commas. Commas made me feel stupid. I had plenty of company. Just Google, “I hate commas” and you will see what I mean. None of the other punctuation marks made me feel that way. I don’t use an exclamation mark except in dialog, and then only occasionally. I know how to use colons, semi-colons, dashes, and parentheses. They all have short entries in CMS.
Then one day, after I’d received my manuscript back from the editor with dozens of corrected commas – some I had changed due to pre-submission editing by English degreed friends or family – I decided to stop beating myself up over the whole comma thing. Maybe Yankee editors don’t pause at the same places as Southern writers. Maybe it is a culture thing. I can’t argue because I am not sure of my own comma knowledge.
Study the CMS
Is is Not the End of the World to Get it Wrong
The important thing to me is the fact that no editor has ever refused my work on the basis of poor comma usage. I’ve decide my ineptitude in using the comma is job security for the editors. I hope they get a little shot of dopamine or serotonin each time they delete or add a comma to my manuscript. I am pretty sure my daughter does. I no longer hate commas. I have decided to use my Southern instinct in deciding to comma or not to comma. Sometimes we need to just slow down and pause more often.
I hope readers of this rant were not hoping for a lesson in correct comma usage. I have no words of wisdom other than to get yourself a copy of CMS and start studying those eighteen pages. Take from them what you will. It is not the end of the world if you don’t always get it right.