Will we use commas in the future? 
Posted: 12 February 2014 11:12 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Here’s the article in Slate.

There’s no denying that commas are helpful little flecks of punctuation. They allow us to separate written clauses and do good work when especially numerous or complicated groups of things exist in a single sentence. But do we really need them?

That’s a trickier question.

In some ways commas are like ketchup and mustard. We’re glad those things exist. They surely make our french fries and hamburgers taste better. But we’d all survive without them. Some assert that the same is true of commas. Linguist and Columbia University professor John McWhorter suggests we “could take [the commas 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.”

That may sound crazy to folks who bristle at Oxford comma problems or enjoy pointing out that life without commas could result in lots of sentences like “let’s eat grandma.” But support for McWhorter’s contention isn’t tough to unearth. We needn’t look any further than our beloved cellphones and computer screens. We’re dropping commas more than ever because so much of our daily writing now consists of quick text messages and hastily typed emails. We’re also engaging in frequent IM discussions and drafting lots of sub-140-character tweets. Commas don’t thrive in those environs.

So we don’t actually need them? OK, that may be true but I’d answer with King Lear.

O reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life is as cheap as beast’s.

There are many things we don’t actually need and could muddle along without. But why should we? Commas are useful, dammit, why throw them away? Or is it that I’m just one of the old fogeys referred to at the end of the article?

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Posted: 12 February 2014 11:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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...so much of our daily writing now consists of quick text messages and hastily typed emails. We’re also engaging in frequent IM discussions and drafting lots of sub-140-character tweets. Commas don’t thrive in those environs.

Is it that they don’t thrive, or is it because they aren’t on the main keyboard dialog?  That’s my problem.  I just get lazy and do without.  Same thing for apostrophes.

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Posted: 12 February 2014 11:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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The idea also runs counter to the empirical findings that people who text a lot are more careful about their grammar and orthography when writing longer forms. (It may not be a cause and effect relationship, rather those who text a lot have a high verbal ability to start with.)

You can get away with a lot of things in short messages, but which would quickly become intolerable if they went on for pages. For instance, imagine if entire newspaper articles were written in headlinese; they would be unreadable. Some of these effects are amazingly subtle. For instance most books are published with a serif font, because reading a sans serif font becomes tiresome after a few pages.

In short, yes you can get away without commas in many, perhaps most, instances. But by making the reader work harder to suss out your meaning, you drastically cut the amount the reader will be willing to read.

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Posted: 12 February 2014 12:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I need commas more than I need articles questioning my need for them.

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Posted: 12 February 2014 12:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Commas save lives:

Let’s eat mommy.

Let’s eat, mommy.

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Posted: 12 February 2014 11:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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In the course of my work as a translator, I often find myself working with documents containing passages of five, six lines or more, with nary a vestige of punctuation.  In the translations I return to the client, I try to insert punctuation wherever it makes the text easier to understand. Most of the punctuation consists of commas and full-stops. My thoughts about the client I keep, perforce, to myself (my family and I have to eat ;-).

Don’t tell me that commas are unimportant, or useless. Anyone who thinks so, and writes accordingly, is unlikely (to paraphrase a boxing term) to be able to write his way out of a paper bag.

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Posted: 13 February 2014 06:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Man, Slate must be desperate for “content.”

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Posted: 13 February 2014 12:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I’ve noticed that written Thai which I can barely read has no spaces between words only sentences and no punctuation at all. Someone told me there had been a proposal to introduce word spaces because it would make it a little easy for children to lean but this was about as popular as GBS’s English spelling reform idea. You have to wonder how they handle declarative sentences that are questions eg You’re going to the bank? (in print I mean) when question tags alone are used interrogatively but after 900 years of writing they’ve surely got it sussed (!). Also anyone here could read all of the above without word spaces with no worries even vertically if they had to like you used to see on Dickensian factory chimbleys. The Japanese do both.

Another interesting thing I’ve noticed is that some Thai newspaper articles, especially those without photos like editorials, have the text of each line extending across the entire page (but never on on the attention-grabbing cover page where they cram as much stuff on as possible with “contd page 2” after all of them. I once read that Western readers hate this hence the universally narrow columns in all our papers and magazines but not forums such as this one so we’ve adayed maybe without even noticing. In newspapers it must be a convention Thai readers never knew and so never had a problem with.

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Posted: 13 February 2014 11:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Also anyone here could read all of the above

Well, I admit I could read all of it, but I very much doubt if I could understand all of it.

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Posted: 14 February 2014 02:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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It has always interested me that written Spanish includes an interrogatory or exclamatory marker at the beginning of a sentence as well as the end; implying that Spanish-speakers feel a need, that readers of other languages apparently don’t experience, to be alerted in advance that they’re about to read a question or exclamation.

(BTW, if anyone knows how to get those upside down !s and ?s from an English-language keyboard, I’d love to know.)

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Posted: 14 February 2014 04:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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If you’re on a Windows machine, go to the Start Menu and type “Character Map”

The keystrokes for Arial’s upside down exclamation mark, for example, are Alt+0161 but that won’t always work anywhere else but your machine.

For here you want to use Unicode characters. The unicode character for the same is

¡

¡

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Posted: 14 February 2014 04:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Note that the Alt+nnnn sequence requires entering the nnnn on the numeric keypad and not the top row typewriter part of the keyboard.

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Posted: 14 February 2014 05:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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If you habitually use special characters, you can download an alternative keyboard map, changing your English keyboard into a Spanish one. (I use alternative maps for Old English and Old Norse.) It’s easy to switch back and forth between keyboard maps in Windows. The physical keys will still be labeled as an English one, of course, but that’s a minor inconvenience.

Or if it’s just one or two characters that you habitually use, you can remap some of the keys you rarely use (e.g., curly brackets) to produce the Spanish ones you need.

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Posted: 14 February 2014 07:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Syntinen Laulu - If you want to write in Spanish as well as in English, why not get yourself a Spanish keyboard? It will have all the letters of the English alphabet, as well as the others (and the punctuation marks) used in Spanish (and probably French and Portuguese too)*. Alternatively, I don’t think it should be difficult to get a bilingual keyboard for English and most European languages (non-European too), including some that use a different alphabet. I don’t know if you’d find one in the UK, but you certainly would in the country using the other language. Here in Israel, I use a bilingual keyboard (English and Hebrew), and a virtual keyboard (easily learned by heart) for Spanish. As for switching languages while working, my Mac OS does almost all that stuff for me, at a click or two (which is just as well - if I had to juggle languages and alphabets for myself, to say nothing of writing direction, I’d be out of work). --- I see that several colleagues here have offered advice about switching languages in Windows and Office.

*It might not have a sign for “Pound Sterling” ;-)

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Posted: 14 February 2014 10:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I don’t suppose you’re using a Mac, SL, but if you are, an inverted exclamation (¡) is just option+1, and an inverted question mark (¿) is shift+option+?  [or shift+option+/, if you want to make a hobgoblin of consistency].

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