For the life of me I cannot figure out why certain things catch my attention and others float past with barely a mental nod. Odd little things, like commas. First it was the Oxford comma. Now it’s the Comma Splice.
“Why commas?” I asked my muse. “Why do I care? It’s a little strange, don’t you think?”
There’s a deep silence, then a barely perceptible shrug . “Why not?” he purrs.
“But it’s not earthshakingly important. It’s not like commas affect the global template of things like politics, banking or the environment.”
“It’s a power thing,” he says.
“What? Power? Are you crazy?”
“Maybe,” he says, ” but look at it this way. You don’t have any control in the political arena, and it’s hard to save an iceberg when you live in California, unless it’s lettuce in the garden. But commas. You do have power over those. It’s the little kingdom of grammar and punctuation that you can do something about. Ooops.”
“Ended a sentence with a preposition. Hah, you didn’t even notice.”
“Right. So, take your pick. Feel helpless at not being able to save the world. Lie awake at night worrying about bailouts, global warming, or which despot might set off a nuclear bomb….or get control of your commas.”
“I see your point.”
So, what’s the comma issue this time?
“Is that something like wire splicing?”
“How do you know about wire splicing? You’re just a cat.”
“That’s rude. Be nice or I’ll leave.”
“You forget that I pay attention to everything. You should know better. Isn’t the old man an electrician? All these years I’ve been watching. You think I haven’t picked up a few things about the electrical trade? I’m going to leave and find a good napping place.”
“No, no. Don’t leave. I just didn’t figure you’d be interested in electrical wiring.”
“You know you’ve digressed quite a bit here in this blog. Why don’t you get to the point?”
“Yes, thanks. So…I was reading articles on grammar tonight and the one that caught my attention was about comma splices. It wasn’t a term that was used when I was in school, so I looked it up. It’s really nothing more than a run-on sentence, but the term bothers me for some reason.”
“Please go on. This is fascinating,” he says, no longer purring, but getting heavy lidded.
“You’re being sarcastic, but I have no one else to tell this to, so try to stay awake.”
A deep sigh from my muse, but I plunge forward. “A splice is the joining of two things, like wires and wood. Now I’m all for the joining together of things, but not when it is two independent clauses joined together by a weak little blip of a comma. It’s like two sentences trying to get in on one ticket. It’s not ethical.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Give me an example.”
“I thought you’d never ask, I have one right on the tip of my tongue.”
“Aha! I caught you.”
“You are paying attention, aren’t you? O.k. Here’s another one.
“Wire connectors are ideal for splicing multiple electrical wires together, they come in a wide variety of sizes and types.”
“You couldn’t resist the electrical plug could you? No pun intended.”
“You’re so funny.”
“O.k. Grammar Geek. Pray tell, how does one solve this grammatical atrocity?”
“It’s so simple. Usually a period works. Or, when appropriate, a connecting word like ‘and’ or ‘but’. But it’s the term ‘comma splice’ that still grates on my senses. It doesn’t fit. It draws all the attention to the comma giving it some misplaced validity.”
My muse’s eyes are closed, so I’m on my own. Then it comes like a flash.
“Oh wait! I know why it bothers me. A splice usually refers to the joining of two things that are meant to be together, like rope or wire or film. But in this case, splicing together two complete sentences is a grammatical error. Only in the use of commas is a splice not a good thing. What were they thinking?”
He opens one eye, looking askance at me. “You know, my purpose here is to inspire creative flow, not to be a sounding board for your meditations on these technical anomalies.”
“I’m almost done. I was just thinking that the term ‘run-on sentence’ was what we used when I went to school. That term actually defines and identifies the grammatical problem. ‘Run-on sentence’ was good enough for me and my generation.”
“I think your showing your age.”
“Hmm. You might be right. Maybe I’ll take a nap with you.”