Examples and comparisons to God, or gods in general, are a great way to seize the audiences consideration, or heartfelt attention. In Pico Iyers essay In praise of the Humble Comma, he uses this to convey, to the audience, the necessity of punctuation in everyday written language. Not only is it a grammatically sound need, but an emotional need as well, as Iyer discusses. In the opening paragraph, Iyer compares the gods to a mere comma. However, as we learn from Iyer, there is nothing mere about such a punctuation mark. He states that they can each “give breath and take it away.” While it may be, or may not be true that gods actually are at fault for our existence, there is an infallible truth in his comparisons: commas represent the human emotion; the quick breath before a long sentence, or the pause needed for emphasis. While it is true that commas represent human breaths and pauses, it may also give breath in sentences while used; the same thing may be said when they aren’t. Without the comma, complex sentences would be very hard to interpret; English would still be a very long line of run-on sentences. So, one could say that the comma is what holds the written language together. Iyer, through direct and indirect examples, is able to convey to the audience the importance of such a tool. Through metaphoric language, real world application, and proper use of grammar, Iyer has succeeded at creating a very thought-provoking essay.
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Reading Ivey’s essay, I came across a plethora of analogies, metaphors, comparisons, and explanations. My favorite quote is as follows: “Punctuation, one is taught, has a point: to keep up law and order. Punctuation marks are the road signs placed along the highway of our communication — to control speeds, provide directions and prevent head-on collisions. A period has the unblinking finality of a red light; the comma is a flashing yellow light that asks us only to slow down; and the semicolon is a stop sign that tells us to ease gradually to a halt, before gradually starting up again. By establishing the relations between words, punctuation establishes the relations between the people using words (Pico Iyer, page 318).” The last sentence of that block quote made me stop and re-read the passage. What Ivey is trying to say is straightforward: Punctuation is written human emotion. Every pause after a sentence may be a period. A pause between ideas, or a quick breath, may be interpreted as a comma. Understanding, and looking at grammar in Ivey’s way, has helped me understand the use of punctuation marks. While I write this, I am aware that each sentence should sound like a human being talking to another. Punctuation is what has bettered our language – not to mention it has made us sound smarter. Iyer clearly has a vast understanding of the way writing mechanics work, and has been gracious enough to share his understanding with his readers. Delving deeper, can every human expletive or emotion be characterized in punctuation? Listening to a stereotypical teenage conversation, one will hear an excess of vocalized pauses, such as ah, um, as, and my favorite, like. While many could say that there is not a direct correlation to vocalized pauses and punctuation, I believe there is. Vocalized pauses occur for one big reason: the speaker is in the process of finding the words to enunciate, and the mouth is working faster than the brain. So, I interpret vocalized pauses as mere lapses in fluidity. Coming back to commas, once could deduce that vocalized pauses, once transcribed to written text, could simply be our humble friend, the comma. Since vocalized pauses happen the most when one is trying to describe something, or after an interrupter, it is not such a silly thought. “Punctuation thus becomes the signature of cultures. The hot-blooded Spaniard seems to be revealed in the passion and urgency of his doubled exclamation points and question marks (“Caramba! Quien sabe?”) while the impassive Chinese traditionally added to his so-called inscrutability by omitting directions from his ideograms. The anarchy and commotion of the ’60s were given voice in the exploding exclamation marks, riotous capital letters and Day-Glo italics of Tom Wolfe’s spray-paint prose; and in Communist societies, where the State is absolute, the dignity — and divinity — of capital letters is reserved for Ministries, Sub-Committees and Secretariats. (Ivey, page 319)” Punctuation has become a signature of our societies.
And what a signature! As Ivey modestly points out, the way we talk and write can help shape a culture. So, the imminent question here is simple: are we destroying the English Language? With the advent of texting and globalized internet, there has been an invasion. Simply put, there has been an invasion of acronyms. If the “hot-blooded Spaniard” is characterized with tasty exclamation points and mysterious question marks, then how do we characterize our youth culture? LOL. We send people text messages because we have come to rely on the speed of modern communication, and there is an expectation for an equally as instantaneous reply. An entirely new culture is beginning to form; complete with its own language. There are literally thousands of abbreviations used for alternative spellings to words, and it has recently spilled into our own colloquial language. Every time I hear a vocalized abbreviation, I have to shudder. Not only are they destroying the English language, but they are making themselves look stupid – which in turn, means less respect for my age group. While it certainly hasn’t affected the English language as a whole yet, the difficulty here is generational. ‘Texters’ are using text lexicon at a younger age. So, I believe we may get to a point where a younger generation is able to read lexicon and abbreviations easier than written English. Therefore, it makes the full, written language, seem tedious. Abbreviating speech (often) or leaving out punctuation can denote stupidity. So, we may end up not only being a lazy society, but an unintelligent one as well – at least, in the eyes of the world. As we know, appearances can be everything. So, it strikes me as odd that the most materialistic and superficial society would choose to sound idiotic. Looking back at Ivey’s essay, he included an excerpt of a letter from Gary Gilmore to his girlfriend. Reading the subtext, I learned that he was a serial murderer. His writing was as follows: “We love each other and belong to each other let’s don’t ever hurt each other.” Reading that statement, I can make a fair accusation that he was, sadly, quite daft – especially with the knowledge that he was a serial killer. The problem with our society today is that we may not know when to use, or even slightly understand, sociolinguistics – and many of us end up sounding like Mr. Gilmore. I see it all the time on social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace; teenagers so frantic to tell people about what they are doing – that they forget simple modifiers and punctuation. They leave out things that no longer need apply in our cyber-language – such as commas, periods, capitalization, and so on. I feel as though we are systematically setting up our youth for failure. While Iyer may agree or disagree with my position on texting, I know that he loves writing. And since he loves writing, he must also love grammar. Accordingly, he proved himself, by performing what he preached – unlike Popes of the 16th century.
Throughout the essay, Iyer illustrated his beautiful use of the comma. His first two sentences to start off the essay are as follows: “The gods, they say, give breath, and they take it away. But the same could be said — could it not? — of the humble comma. Add it to the present clause, and, of a sudden, the mind is, quite literally, given pause to think; take it out if you wish or forget it and the mind is deprived of a resting place. (Iyer, Page 318)” Written text is a lot more readable when there is some variety to it; a story with no punctuation is like football with no interceptions. There is no surprise, or excitement, behind the story. Like Iyer declared, language without punctuation is like music with no notation. Music without pauses, crescendos, or soul, makes a very dull piece of music – something our culture has mass produced. In a way, we have destroyed the true essence of music; we have begun to do the same thing to written language.
Iyer communicates his love of the comma through metaphorical language, real-world applications, and his own mastery of grammar. If speech is indeed something to measure intelligence off of, we, as a country, need to shape up. Punctuation has fallen by the wayside due to the dawn of texting, and its subsequent consequences. Future generations may begin to speak using acronyms regularly, further smashing our beloved language. In a way, it was destined to happen. In the immediate “I want it now” mentality of the westernized world, punctuation, in itself, has become superfluous; we simply do not have time to spell out words. While a few brave souls may choose to use pronunciation, the unthinking majority will not.
I was taken with his metaphorical language. Almost every paragraph there is some sort of speech that emphasizes, or better explains, his own point. My favorite metaphor was the one about street lights: “Punctuation marks are the road signs placed along the highway of our communication — to control speeds, provide directions and prevent head-on collisions. A period has the unblinking finality of a red light; the comma is a flashing yellow light that asks us only to slow down; and the semicolon is a stop sign that tells us to ease gradually to a halt, before gradually starting up again. By establishing the relations between words, punctuation establishes the relations between the people using words.”
1. Each simile and metaphor are extremely effective at conveying Iyer’s stance to the audience. He introduces analogy early in the 2nd paragraph with an analogy about street lights, as shown in letter A. He uses his knowledge of the comma to show his mastery of it. In the first paragraph, he is able to get away with 5 commas in one sentence!
2. Iyer’s main points are: Punctuations are written human emotion, punctuation holds society upright, it is a signature of cultures, it is music to our minds, punctuation gives writing a human voice, and punctuation gives writing depth. Culturally, Iyer states that Spanish is characterized with the double exclamation and question marks to add emphasis to the said emotion. The 60’s in the US saw a lot of exclamation marks, and it was relevant to the hustle-and-bustle times.
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3. A very famous example of this is a book called Eats, Shoots and Leaves, by Lynne Truss, follows this example. If a panda bear eats shoots and leaves, it could be inferred that he sat down at a restaurant, opened fire, and promptly left. However, if it were read: Eats, shoots and leaves, you can understand that a panda bear primarily has a diet consisting of shoots and leaves from a bamboo tree.
S – The importance of the comma in written language.
O – An article for the New York Times.
A – Readers of the New York Times.
P – To educate/inform readers on the importance of the comma.
S – Pico Iyer.
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