Saturday, June 15, 2013

Whatchu Talkin' 'Bout, Willis?

Anyone with a modicum of intelligence and respect knows where the title of this blog comes from.  If you don't, you're very young, and should disappear from the face of the earth.  (Happily drinking my Haterade.)
 Am I the only one noticing the unfortunate hairdo?
So that sounds like a legitimate question, but, alas, it ain't.  In Arnold's case, it was a statement of surprise at what his brother told him.  (Like cut your damn hair!)  Most of the time when people say this, on some level, they don't get what you're saying or refuse to believe it.
Hence the reason for the blog.  If you want to stop people from having this type of reaction all the time, you need to realize that it's not normally about what you say; it's about how you say it.  There's an aphorism that comes to mind:  "Life and death lie in the power of the tongue."  (I could REALLY go somewhere with that statement, but I won't--because I'm classy like that.)  That pretty much destroys the stupidity that is, "Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."  Rubbish.  Utter rubbish.
In a previous article, I talked about paying attention to your audience.  Keep doing that.  But in paying attention to them, you also need to pay attention to how you're saying what you're saying.  Otherwise, they won't be your audience for very long.
Talking about how you say something deals with two things:  diction and intonation.  I know I promised not to scare you with my omniscience of linguistics, but I have to puff my chest a little sometimes.  (Works for Pam Anderson.)  You'll get over it.  For this posting, we'll focus on diction.
So "diction" simply means the words that you choose.  As in "diction-ary."  Duh!  So just like a dictionary has a bunch of words in it that have all types of meaning, your diction is a bunch of words that have all types of meanings and that you lob at people like you're Serena Williams playing against some poor sap that she's about to epically dominate:
Her She-Hulk legs are all the proof you need that she's bad.
Here's a real-life example:

Peter:  I have a question about this project you just gave me.  I don't quite understand your instructions.

Xavier:  The instructions were clear.  An elementary-school student would understand them.

Peter:  . . .

Yeah, this interaction was all about diction.  Even if my intonation was appropriate, Peter would still have punched me in the face.  Why?  My word choice sucked out loud.  "Elementary-school student?" Really?  This was a poor interaction because my diction wasn't appropriate to the situation or the person in front of me.

The words you choose can have an influence on another person:  either positive or negative.  So you have to be mindful of what you say.  Keep in mind that I'm not referring to political correctness, where you don't know whether to call someone black, African American, or colored.  (If you are truly confused about that last word, please move to Antarctica.  Naked.)  We are talking about making sure your diction aligns with the needs of the person in front of you.

For example, I have a fairly strong personality.  I'm not easily offended by much.  So when people talk to me or have to provide me feedback, my expectation is that their language be straightforward and supported by facts.  I don't need lead-up compliments; just give it to me.  This is distinct from my partner, Steve.  He appreciates feedback just like any rational person, but when providing it, he needs to understand the positive things he has done before talking about correction.  Here's an example:

Steve to Xavier:  You didn't pay this bill on time.  What gives?

Xavier to Steve:  I got a notice that the electric bill hasn't been paid yet.  You're always on top of stuff like this, but I know you have been really busy with school lately.  Have you had a chance to mail the payment?

Does it irritate me that I can't just come out like a fool on Steve?  Sure, it does!  In both of the cases, our lights are about to turned off, and the goal of the question is to find out how we can prevent that.  The diction in both cases is noticeably different, and it should be.  Steve and I have different communication needs.  And in both cases, the chance that we would respond defensively to the question is low.

Diction becomes seriously important when it comes to business and dealing with customers.  I talk about this extensively in my Customer Service Lost blog.  Not paying attention to the words that your customer can understand will send them running faster than a crack-head to a drug dealer.

So if you want to avoid the following response from people:

WTF you say?!

Pay attention to your word choice.

This posting is not intended for prized MMA fighters, since they can pretty much say whatever they want and get away with it.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Truly Spellbound

If you're like any respectable, God-fearing American who worships all things reality television but can't seem to find Minnesota on a map of the world, you get spellbound easily.  I mean, you get spellbound over the following:
Someone must have Photoshopped the pole out of this picture.
It's okay to be spellbound by these people and food items, I guess.  It's not okay to be spellbound over some embarrassing grammatical mistake that you made or that you stumbled across in your everyday reading.  (You do read every day, right?)
In a previous post, I sagaciously--yep, sagaciously--wrote about text-speak, and how it really isn't the death of the English language.  But in another post, I wrote about knowing your audience.  Stop being one dimensional and start cerebrally multitasking and putting those posts together to get the gist of what I am going to talk about here:  Pay attention to how you write!
So here's the deal:  Grammar and spelling does do matter.  You just can't write how the hell you feel like you want to write.  Well, actually, you can, but you'll end up being more embarrassing than Shaq trying to be a cop.
Oh, dear.

You have to pay attention if you want to keep a shred of credibility in your professional life.  As an editor, I see this all the time in the work that I am reviewing.  Some of the errors are understandable:  You're moving fast to get something done, and you mix up a word or two.  Gotcha.  Other errors are just opportunities for me to take a screen shot and. . .wait.  Never mind.  Some of my clients are probably reading this blog.
So now it's time to list the top-three errors that come across my desk that leave me spellbound.  Try to keep your composure here.  You're a professional, remember?
#1:  Your versus You're
You don't want to make the distinction in a text message to your drug dealer?  No worries.  But make this mistake when you're writing a financial analysis for your employer, and you're pretty much guaranteed to lose credibility, not to mention screw up something royally for your company.  Dumb.
Here's an example of how these words are confused and misused:
  • "You're attention to this matter is required."
  • "I know that your the only one who can create these complex formulas in Excel for me."
The only attention that is required is to horrific grammar in the first sentence.  And the only thing that'll be complex for you is the unemployment form you'll have to complete when you're fired from you're job for clearly lying about you're educational background during the interview process.  Liar.
Let's get to business.  "Your" is a pronoun and a possessive one at that.  What that means is that you use it when you want to show possession of something else.  In complex usage, it's used before a gerund.  Impressed with my omniscience in language?  You should be.
"You're" is a contraction, meaning that it actually is "you" and "are."  Basically, at some point in the evolution of the English language, people got so lazy that they got sick of the strenuous labor of putting an "a" in "are."  So they decided to save time by removing one character--the "a"--and replacing it with another character--the apostrophe.  Apparently, there's an impressive efficiency gain in writing one character that takes one second to make versus another one that takes 1.0000001 seconds to make.  See.  Time-saving!  Anyway, you use "you're" when you need a subject--"you"--and a verb--"are" or " 're."
Simple enough.
#2:  Who versus Whom
I talked about this distinction in a previous blog posting.  The reality is that "whom" is dying and should be gone by the end of this generation.  (One can only hope.)  So why in the hell are people trying to use it in everyday and business language?
If you must use it, please use it correctly.  If you don't, you will sound completely, utterly dumb.  I mean, like Paris Hilton-Nicole Ritchie lovechild dumb.  You can read my prior post about the function that the "who" and "whom" words serve in the English language.  In simple terms, "who" either connects one sentence to an incomplete sentence, as in, "That's the man who is going to the prom with her," or functions as the subject of a sentence, as in, "Who wants some food?"  (Carnie Wilson does, that's who!)  It actually gets much more complicated than that, but we'll stop there. 
Yet this is what I'll often come across:  "I am the one whom will lead the meeting."  Seriously?  You couldn't even lead yourself out of a can of alphabet soup.  Just stop.
My suggestion:  Just use "who" all the time.  You'll save face.  If someone corrects you by saying you should have used "whom," you have my permission to call the person a pretentious douche, followed by punching him/her in the face.  *Legal disclaimer goes here*
#3:  Inappropriate Use of Reflexive Pronouns
I get it.  You want to sound super professional in the business world.  So instead of saying, "He'll give the proposal to Tameka and me," you instead say, "He'll give the proposal to Tameka and myself."  Yeah, no.
A reflexive pronoun is a word that reflects back on itself, as in "myself," "yourself," etc.  If you are the subject of the sentence and you want to direct the action of the sentence back to you, use a reflexive pronoun.  For example, "I gave myself a headache from all the screaming I did today."  "I" is the subject of the sentence.  "Gave" is the action of the sentence.  "Myself" is the word that catches it before it flows throughout the rest of the sentence, and it's the word that lobs it right back to the subject--hitting it smack-dab in the face.
So obviously, the usage in the first paragraph is just all out wrong.  My thought is that people think that reflexive pronouns sound regal, so they want to be a king or queen for the moment.  We already have enough of them in world.  We don't need pretenders to the throne, thank you.
That's the top three.  But trust me:  There are many, many, many, many more issues that I see that come to my desk, like missing transition words, adverb abuse, illogical thinking, and run-on sentences.
The gist of this posting is to absolutely, positively, most definitely (superfluous language) make you feel self-conscious about your writing.  While we will always make mistakes when writing simply because language changes all the time and we won't always be up-to-date with the changes, but let's try to pay attention as much as possible.  You're paycheck will thank you.
I just saved your career.  You're welcome.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Dying English Language

So I am sure you have heard it a million times:

"The English language is dying.  I mean, just look at how Ke$ha spells her name.  And these damn rappers!  Why can't they realize that it's 'whores,' not "ho's!'"

Actually, the only thing that will be dying is you if you don't keep that blood pressure down over language use.  Seriously?

Is this really necessary?  Over a damn verb?
I am here to report to you that the English language is, in fact, not dying.  Just because people choose to use "u" for "you" in various settings doesn't mean the wife of the English language is getting ready to cash in on that million dollar life-insurance policy.

So why in the world are people saying that the language is dying then?  I'll tell you why:  ignorance and elitism.  I'll explain more, but first, we need to point out the two types of language people that you're going to run into--or probably have already run into:  descriptivists and prescriptivists.

Basically, a prescriptivist is a guy who says this kind of nonsense about language:

"And, in few words, I dare say; that of all the Studies of men, nothing may be sooner obtain'd, than this vicious abundance of Phrase, this trick of Metaphors, this volubility of Tongue, which makes so great a noise in the World. But I spend words in vain; for the evil is now so inveterate, that it is hard to know whom to blame, or where to begin to reform." - Thomas Sprat

I'm a polyglot, so let me translate:

"All you ghetto hood-rats with your slang and booty-popping music are destroying the purity of the God-created English language.  Oh, and I'm better than you!"

These prescriptivist guys come in different shapes and sizes.  They may be known as grammarians, language mavens, language purists, and a-holes.

Then you have the descriptivist who says:

"Descriptivism is a central tenet of what we regard as a scientific approach to the study of language: the very first requirement in any scientific investigation is to get the facts right." - R.L. Trask

In other words, "We don't care how you speak.  Just speak so we can study your words!"

So where does the ignorance part come in?  Well, you start with the language mavan having a conniption fit because I misspelled "mavan" a few words before.  He starts lecturing me about how much of an embarrassment I am to the human race for my mortal transgression, and how God probably won't forgive me--ever.  This is ignorant.  He's apparently not aware that language functions by two principles:

  1. The ability to create new words as necessary
  2. The agreement on the meaning of words
Number one means that language has to evolve as it encounters new human experiences.  We have to find ways to express these experiences, and sometimes the existing words in the language just don't do the trick.  Number two means that there are still limits that we have to place on language in order to prevent it from running amok.

Here's an example:  Say the kids o' the day come up with this new pastime of putting one's finger as close to the eye as possible to see who flinches first.  Other than "idiotic," there's no official English word to describe this new pastime, so they collectively start using "pokester," as in, "Dude, I just pokestered you!"  This word will adopt all the forms that other English words adopt.  It's a verb, so it follows a certain conjugation scheme.  It falls on the timeline, so the past-tense form may require an "-ed" at the end, or maybe not.  This is word creation and language evolution.

At the same time, people have to agree, usually unknowingly, that "pokester" can not be used in certain ways, such as an adjective, as in "That pokester cat is just too darn cute!"  Or maybe it can't be used to describe an already-existing word, as in "pokester" can not mean "car," "bus," or "Rosie O'Donnell."  This is called a systematic constraint.

To not be aware of this reality is to be ignorant.  But this is where the elitist part comes into play.  Many prescriptivists are aware of this; they just choose to ignore it.  The issue that they actually have is that they weren't the ones who came up with the words and who put the constraint on the meaning of other words.  If the English language encounters a new phenomenon, they should be the one to name it, and they should be the one to tell everyone what it is not.  This is elitist.  And pretty stupid.

What's become a sort of irritant to me is the assumption that people have of me when they find out that I'm an editor/writer.  "Oh, you must be judging me all the time on my writing!"  How do we say this in French?  "Le geeet reeel!"  I am not a language elitist in the least and proud of it!

Here's the moral of the story:  If you find yourself saying, "I can't stand when people say. . .," you're a language purist and should hop on a ship and go live on one of the Galapagos Islands.  Sure, there is a time and place for certain types of language.  Of course, I am not advocating that we shouldn't be mindful of our setting or audience.  But I am advocating that it's fine for people to take liberties with language.  They always have and always will.  The English we know today will not be the same English spoken 1,000 years from now.  And that's okay.  And u should be okay with it, 2.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Speak My Language Or Else!

I'll just say this from the outset:  This blog posting is going to be more serious than what you have experienced in this blog so far.  The reason is that I am going to talk about a subject that is controversial, though I don't understand why.  I am going to talk about the seemingly prevalent view among Americans that people who live in the United States should speak the language of the country:  English.

What sparked this blog posting was this graphic that I came across on Facebook:

Speak English Now!
I must admit that it didn't shock me in the least.  Since age 12, I have seen some variation of it throughout school or in my personal life.  However, at age 35, it's getting tiring seeing it.  This has to stop.

On the surface, the message makes sense:  Speak the language, or be prepared to experience difficulties until you do.  That makes sense, of course.  If I were to move to Bolivia but didn't speak the language at the time of my move, life would be decidedly difficult for some time, at least until I achieved a level of proficiency that would allow me to ask where the bathroom is.

It's the second option that eradicates any notion that this graphic is anything but xenophobic.  It's the second option that makes no consideration of the concepts of second-language acquisition and the difficulties people experience when learning a new language.  To make the connection between xenophobia and this graphic, we should spend a bit talking about just what language acquisition entails.

Most people reading this blog will have had English as a maternal language.  Generally, there's not much thought that goes into structuring the sentences that emanate from our mouths.  We simply respond to what we see.  Noam Chomsky, who is one of the most prominent linguists in history, had much to say first-language acquisition.  

In the interest of not turning this posting into a Nirvana for linguists, I'll reduce his many arguments to this:  Language acquisition is an inherent ability for humans, who are hard-wired to make accurate deductions about how language is used in various scenarios.  In other words, first-language acquisition isn't very much of a concerted effort and happens naturally.  Second-language acquisition is a different matter, however.

Learning a second language is a decidedly concerted effort that does not enjoy many of the benefits of learning a first language.  For example, with first-language acquisition, a child starts with a blank slate ready to be colored by social interactions with other people.  A child simply learns the rules of the language he/she's immersed in speak and, therefore, has no reason to compare them with existing rules learned in another language.

In second-language acquisition, one of the principle issues language learners experience is the normal and understandable tendency to compare speaking patterns and grammars of the foreign language to those of the native language.  Early on, this results in a tendency to directly translate when speaking in the foreign language.  Here's an example in French:

English:  I am 35 years old.
Direct French:  Je suis 35 ans.  (Incorrect.)
French:  Quel âge avez-vous?  (Correct.)

In English, we express age using a form of "to be."  In French, it's expressed using a form of "to have."  It's normal for someone learning French to apply our English rule to French; it's what we're used to.  It's wrong but still normal.

But why do the two languages use different verbs to express the same thing?  That's too big of a question for this posting, but the short answer is that language and culture are inextricable.  In fact, language is culture.  This why learning a new language is truly an enlightening but intensely difficult experience.  You're not just learning new words and new placement of those words; you're learning new ways of thinking and acting.

I make this point to also make the point that when people in this country--or in any country, for that matter--make absolute demands such as what's in the graphic above, it demonstrates a lack of appreciation for the difficulty of learning another language.  Telling a language learner to get the hell out of the country until she learns to speak the language is simply ignorant.  We shouldn't pretend that the graphic is a positive encouragement for non-native speakers to learn the language.  It's a graphic to choose the source culture and ignore their own.

When it comes to learning language, a little compassion and appreciation of the difficulty of learning another language go a long way.  But it's impossible to be compassionate when no time has been spent learning another language and, as a result, learning about someone else's culture.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Whom Who?

So you have been speaking English for some time now.  You've got this thing.  You know how to match your subjects with your verbs.  Right?  You can spell halfway decently, at least enough to send a "Do you like me?  Circle 'Yes' or 'No'" note in third grade.  (If you're doing this in college, you're pretty much wasting money on your education.)  You even know how to curse someone out if she cuts you off in the middle of rush hour.  That's actually how I became fluent in English.

But then comes along what has to be a foreign word:  whom.  WTF?  Is this a typo?  Did someone mean to write "who" but threw in the extra "m" to confuse the non-native English speakers?  Nope, "whom" is a real English word.  Deal with it!

So there's good news and bad news.  I'll start with the bad first, since it's always fun to kill people's joy from the get-go.  "Whom" is a legitimate word, and you will encounter it from time to time.  The good news, however, is that it is a dying word, meaning people are using it less and less.  Why you (didn't) ask?  Honestly, the word sounds terribly snooty.  If you're as cool as the cast of "Jersey Shore," you would't be caught dead using this word.  (In fact, you wouldn't be caught dead using words with more than one-and-a-half syllables.)

So here's the breakdown of this word.  "Whom" is considered an objective pronoun.  All that means is that it never initiates the action in a sentence; it always receives the action.  Here's an example:

He wants to give the gift to whom?

Putting aside Christian generosity, "whom" in this sentence clear is the recipient of the gift, not the giver of it.  Here's another example of "whom":

I actually like the guy whom everyone in the office hates to death!

Disregarding the fact that you aren't capable of picking respectable friends, "whom" in this sentence is acting as a relative pronoun.  That's fancy language for "whom" is connecting two sentences.

And there are variations of "whom," such as "whomever" and "whomsoever."

And with that, you'll see why "whom" is going the way of the dinosaur.  Nearly every instance of the word sounds pompous and, dare I say it, un-American.  Only in the most formal of settings is the word used, and even then, its usage has relaxed significantly.  So if you're writing a research paper for your stuffy, stuck-up professor in college, use "whom" more than Mariah Carey uses a lip-syncing machine when "performing."  Otherwise, I would avoid using the word.  You may think you're sounding professional and educated.  I would say that you end up being snickered at the moment you turn your back.

So don't listen to the language purists who pine all day about the degradation of the English language with the slow exit of "whom."  Language is like humankind--it evolves all the time and never looks the same from one century to the next.

So be cool:  Don't use "whom."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Don't Do This

Gawker recently posted an interesting article about language, and oh, what a language article it was!

Here's a rundown of the article.  A software-engineering fellow is looking for employment, and just like so many people, he has his résumé posted up on a few employment sites:  Monster, in this case.  And as we all know, there are recruiters sifting through résumés and probably shooting off mass mailings to see who will answer.  (That's tacky, by the way.)  A certain recruiter contacted the software guy and pitched a position to him that, geographically speaking, didn't fall within the interests of the software guy.  The software guy responded, and it went downhill from there.

The "LOL, you dick" from the recruiter (really?) pretty much indicated the deluge of that relationship.

So here's some advice from your editor friend:  Don't do that!  As in don't embarrass yourself the way Christina Aguilera does the moment she picks up a microphone.  All it will result in is my making fun of you on Facebook, making me no better than the subjects of this article.

An ass, as in what these fellows were during their verbal joust. 
The overlying problem with this e-mail exchange--besides the embarrassing levels of grammar from the recruiter--is the challenge to effective communication that e-mail and other written forms of communication pose.  Hell, it's already challenging enough trying to communicate and understand people in real life. (Chaka Khan and your penchant for slurring your words, I'm talking to you!)  E-mail just adds an extra layer of difficulty.

Why is e-mail so challenging?  It's a quick form of communication that's meant to convey messages as succinctly as possible, though some people use it much more extensively and create elaborate messages in it.  (Please stop.)  The other problem is that it's particularly difficult to communicate nuance in an e-mail or, really, any form of written communication.  There are more, but those two are the nuclear bombs of e-mail communication.

Now consider that paragraph with the much-vaunted communication model:

This graphic takes me back to the trauma of geometry.

  1. Interpreter 1:  This is the person who has something to communicate.  She thinks of the message, encodes it with meaning that she understands and hopes others understand.
  2. Message:  The message is sent.  (Let's hope it's not sent via lose-your-mail-every-week, nearly insolvent, ha-ha-you-and-your-overpaid-workers-deserve-it USPS.)
  3. Interpreter 2:  This is the person who receives the message.  He goes through the decoding process to gain an understanding of it.
  4. Encoding:  If the original message requires a response, Interpreter 2 responds by encoding his own meaning into the response and fires it away.
  5. And the process iterates.

Pretty simple, huh?  Yeah, no.  Sure, it's simple to think up your message and inject meaning into it, and it's simple to fire it off without a further thought.  After that is when it gets interesting, because you really can't control a single thing else about that message.  It's now in the control of the other person.  And when he starts to decode the message, all hell can break loose--and often does.  

And if Interpreter 2 misinterprets the message, he will encode his response based on his bad decoding of the initial message.  Interpreter 1 gets the poorly encoded response and gets ready to go to her purse on Interpreter 2 for his foolishness.  Yeah, a big oh, dear moment.  You can easily see how situations can derail right quick--and someone can go the way of Tupac.

Do you really want to end up here over a silly e-mail?

No one has to go to the ICU or morgue, though.  So let me offer you some tips to save your dignity (and life):
  1. Conscientiousness:  Big word that means being mindful of not only what you're writing, but how you're writing and the meaning behind the words.  The adage, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," is complete bull ka-ka.
  2. Succinctness:  I'm not even sure that's a word, but my made-up meaning is that you should be succinct, straightforward in your message.  Whatever doesn't need to be said shouldn't be said.
  3. Tone:  Understand that it is difficult to control how your intended tone can be received, so be as tone conservative as possible, meaning be as clear as possible about the tone you're using.  What that also means is that sarcasm via e-mail is probably not a best practice.
  4. Propriety:  Know your audience so you know how to communicate with them.
  5. Pick Up the Damn Phone:  For the love of Abraham, if you think that your message could derail faster than Ke$ha's career, pick up the phone to talk it through.
I didn't discuss spelling errors in e-mail because it's not germane to this posting.  Plus, spelling errors won't mean that you're an ass. It'll just mean that you're illiterate.  (Kidding. . .I think.)

Read this blog; post it up on your wall; and treat it as your bible or Koran.  (I'm not kidding.)  You'll save yourself a lot of grief, and you'll learn to communicate better via e-mail.  Or, at the very least, you will know when to pick up the damn telephone to flesh things out.  Generation Y, I know that sends shivers through your spine, but I promise you won't die if you actually press numbers on your cell phone and, I don't know, hit "Send" to make a call.

Picture 1 reference: 2 reference:  http://www.comprofessor.comPicture 3 reference:

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Comma Coma

I have some unfortunate news for you:  The comma has been pronounced to be in a coma.  This is tragic!  What's worse is that the doctor's told me that it has a two-percent chance of survival.

life-support machine

I see squiggle lines.  That's a good sign, right?

I was doing some digging, and I found out why the poor punctuation mark ended up comatose.  It's because it's been used to the point of exhaustion, worked liked a slave, abused and misused.  What would you expect when you treat it that way?  A punctuation mark can only take so much.

So I'm here to help the comma save on its co-pays and get out of the ICU.  How am I going to do that?  By telling you how to stop abusing it.

So what's this abuse I've been talking about.  Like Lady Gaga, it comes in many forms; I'll only cover the two that I come across most frequently as an editor.  But before we can even talk about the abuse, we need to define what a comma is.  I'll spare you the boring dictionary definition, and I'll just give you an everyday explanation.

A comma is a punctuation mark that mostly represents a brief pause in thought.  When talking, the times you need to take a quick breath before the next onslaught of words to your poor audience is when you would most likely use a comma.  The pause rule of thumb can create some complex rules around comma usage, e.g., using a comma after the city and state when they are used in a sentence.  Sure, you can sleep (and slobber) your way through those rules, or you can save your coolness by just using the pause rule of thumb.  If you need to take a breath, you probably need to use a comma.  Simple enough.

Now on the to two areas that have caused this comma calamity:

Comma Splice

Even though it sounds like something straight out of a science-fiction movie, it's a real thing.  Basically, a comma splice is using a comma to separate two sentences that don't have a conjunction between them.

"Who'sa what?" you say?

Here's a real-life example:

I'm tired, I know I should go home.

Don't do that.  No, you should go home if you're tired.  (No one wants you snoring at her house.)  You should not, however, use a comma between those two complete thoughts.  Using the pause rule of thumb, you should get the sense that the sentences require more than just a half-second pause.  It requires a full pause--even a complete stop.  That's too powerful for the comma to handle.  (That's why it's in the coma, silly.)  You need to call in a few other punctuation marks, the choice being yours of which to use.

The period to save the day:

I'm tired.  I should go home.

A period indicates a full stop.  That's needed between two sentences that have no other word to connect it.


I'm tired, so I should go home.

Or you can call in the comma's BFF, the conjunction, to help tackle the two sentences.  More on the conjunction in a subsequent posting.


I'm tired; I should go home.

You can call in the comma's older, football-player-strength brother who can chew up two sentences and spit them out (because he eats his Wheaties).  I'll cover semicolons in a subsequent posting.

Commas and Dates

Not that type of date, silly.  Dates as in the month and year.  You should not do this:

The financial report gives us information about sales of August, 2012.

I know it seems like these are two discrete words that express different points of time.  However, you want to look at them as a unit, two words that, together, form a complete picture in your head.  As a complete unit (that sounds hot), you don't need a comma to separate them.  Yes, the comma can finally take a break!

It is important to note that comma requirements can vary between styles of writing.  For example, Reuters has certain comma requirements that the Chicago Manual of Style thinks is idiotic.  Keep that mind when using commas in more complex ways.

See, that wasn't so bad, was it?  All these things you have been doing to beat down the comma and land it near death weren't even necessary.  You can leave it alone and allow it to heal and make a full recovery.  Hell, you could even do us all a favor and put that damn colon out of its misery.  It's the Rihanna of punctuation marks:  ugly, annoying, and with big features.