DON’T ASK WHY- Let’s pause for correct comma, usage

I blame technology.

Actually, anymore that’s a pretty safe thing to blame. Think about it, if anything goes wrong, technology is the first thing that takes the heat.

For example, you have a car accident, so you blame your cell phone.

You don’t write your 10-page essay about the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War, so you blame your computer for losing it.

You completely forget about an important meeting, so you blame space aliens for abducting you that day and implanting a small microchip into your right earlobe for biological testing on the effects of the sun’s radiation on that squishy, fleshy part that hangs down at the bottom of your ear, which appears to have no actual purpose other than for teenage girls to pierce in six different locations, because they obviously do not have enough holes in their heads already.

I think you get the picture.

But I’m pretty sure I can legitimately blame technology for the latest tragedy in my life. In fact, the entire junior class at Hillsboro High School had to endure this harsh punishment for something we honestly have no control over.

We had to do an entire worksheet packet about commas for English III. (For those of you who read numbers the American way, that’s English 111.)

This came as a result of an essay assignment that was due recently. We were supposed to reflect on an event that was significant in our lives, and how it had changed us. So I wrote about Pluto.

But that’s not the point.

What is the point-and believe it or not, I do have one-is that after reading and grading our essays, teacher Bob Woelk announced to our class that we are all pretty much a bunch of morons who couldn’t tell whether a comma would be more appropriate between two independent clauses or the brightly colored hind-quarters of a baboon.

(Answer: I’m not even completely sure what an independent clause is. It might have something to do with Santa going into self-employment. I really don’t know.)

OK, so he wasn’t that harsh. But the basic message he was trying to get across to us was that, when it comes to commas, we really don’t know what we’re doing.

Ordinarily, about now I would create a cheap gag by misplacing a, comma in the middle of my sentence, mainly to prove the point, “Hey look! I’m funny!”

But in an attempt to show how mature I am, I will instead give you examples of something very similar to what we had to do in that packet. Following are four sentences that require commas, but don’t have them all. See if you can figure out where the commas should go.

Example 1: On June 1 1964 did you know that commas should go on both sides of the year in a date?

Example 2: In a list, a comma should go here here here but not here.

Example 4: Whoops I skipped example number three!

OK, do you know where the commas should go? Me neither. And you know why neither of us knows?

You guessed it: technology.

In the past several years, many people, me included, have begun to use Internet instant messaging programs and texting via cell phones as dominant methods of communicating.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of sending a text or instant message, here’s how it works: You ignore all grammatical rules whatsoever, you capitalize nothing, spell everything incorrectly and use punctuation only when you need to emphasize something, as in: !!!!!

It’s sort of a habit you get into. When I first started instant messaging, I did everything correctly. But now, I’ve conformed to the completely incorrect ways. In fact, the other day I caught myself backspacing just to uncapitalize a proper noun, if that tells you anything.

Thankfully, I finally finished that massive onslaught of correct comma usage. But what scares me are all the other overly common punctuation and grammatical errors that Mr. Woelk might have found in our essays.

Sure, this time it was just commas. But what could be next?

The attack of the semi-colon? The complex-compound sentence of doom? The night of the living ampersand?

These are the questions that keep me up at night! As if commas weren’t bad enough, an entire packet on the correct usage of “who” and “whom” would be an unbearable load.

And so I issue this plea to teenagers everywhere: repent of your wicked instant messaging ways now! But first, would someone please text me what exactly an independent clause is?

* * *

UFO: Winston Churchill smoked an estimated 300,000 cigars during his life.

Don’t ask why.

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