Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Comma may be abolished from English language'

Comma may be abolished from English language'

LONDON: Death of the comma? One of the most commonly used elements of written English - the humble comma - could be abolished as a punctuation mark without doing much damage to the language, a US academic has suggested.
Professor John McWhorter, an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, believes that removing commas from most modern US texts would cause little loss of clarity.
McWhorter said that as Internet users and even some writers become increasingly idiosyncratic - if not indifferent - in their use of the punctuation mark, it may have outstayed its welcome, 'The Times' reported.
You "could take them out of a great deal of modern American texts and you would probably suffer so little loss of clarity that there could even be a case made for not using commas at all," McWhorter said.
He cited the Oxford comma, inserted after the penultimate item in a list, as an example of the mark's obsolescence.
"Nobody has any reason for it that is scientifically sensible and logical in the sense that we know how hydrogen and oxygen combine to form water," McWhorter told Slate magazine.
"So these things are just fashions and conventions. They change over time," he said.
PTI story published in newspapers on February 10, 2014

Comma RIP: Is this ubiquitous punctuation mark heading to a full stop?

Columbia University professor John McWhorter suggests the comma is way past its expiry date. This is not just because we've learnt to save time and use words — or 'wrds' — composed of collapsible letters today. McWhorter says the comma need never have been a pillar on our grammatical landscape for there's no inherent logic to the little chap. You could apparently withdraw the comma from most modern American texts and not even notice the difference.
The stinging dismissal will certainly cause many writers to pause mid-phrase. We anticipatePico Iyer — who's earlier written a blushing essay in fulsome praise of the comma where he likens the punctuation mark to how we bat our eyelashes and murmur endearments to lovers — will express disapproval replete with red-faced full stops. But Pico's party of punctuation-lovers will face stiff challenge from Gertrude Stein who condemns the comma stringently. Stein writes the comma is basically "a poor period that stops and lets you take a breath". She tartly elaborates — "But if you want to take a breath you ought to know yourself that you want to take a breath." That's not all. Stein remarks a comma enfeebles. It distracts. It annoyingly dilutes what must be intense.
Clearly the comma war won't pause just yet. But it will tickle grammar's grandmasters by presenting new games. Oscar Wilde delighted many by confessing he'd spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest taking it out. From there to writing editorials sans a comma at all is just another fun move on changing chessboards of words where clauses and pauses keep shifting but the challenge — to communicate — stays the same.

(Times of India, Edit, Feb 11, 2014)

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