About Advertise
Culture, Reality
A Crutch called a Comma

A Crutch called a Comma

by Sean O'Toole / 19.08.2010

Sometimes, although not all that frequently, I find myself wondering, which is, perhaps, in the context of Mahala, a better word to use here than ruminating – more modern, less UCT English Honours – why it is that contributors to this online publication (or possibly ‘zine, but you can call it a blog too) all seem to write in perpetual fear of the comma, that standard issue punctuation mark which, when I last checked, is not endangered, threatened or otherwise proscribed by the terms of the proposed Protection of Information Bill [B 6—2010], a contested piece of legislation that in Chapter 11, Section 37 uses a total of eight graphically familiar curls in its warning to media owners at large that, “Any person who attempts, conspires with any other person, or aids, abets, induces, instigates, instructs or commands, counsels or procures another person to commit an offence in terms of this Act, is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to the punishment to which a person convicted of actually committing that offence would be liable.”

In a memorandum attached to the bill, its authors, writing without once leaning on that crutch called a comma (gasp!), explain that the proposed Bill “will ensure a coherent approach to protection of State information and the classification and declassification of State information and will create a legislative framework for the State to respond to espionage and other associated hostile activities.”

Whatever, many in civil society have responded, often resorting in private to the use of more colourful expletives, which, as Mahala’s readers will likely by know by now, don’t require pauses – or commas.

“Transparency and the access to information is fundamental to democratic governance,” states crime writer and SA PEN vice president Margie Orford in a recent statement issued by the South African chapter of International PEN, a worldwide association of writers founded in London in 1921 to promote friendship and intellectual co-operation among writers. “The South African constitution states that ‘everyone has the right of access to any information held by the state… that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights.’ The draft Protection of Information Bill, flawed in multiple ways, subordinates this constitutionally enshrined transparency to a broadly and vaguely defined ‘national interest’.”

Post script: Mahala’s crime genre write-a-likes might be intrigued to learn that Orford isn’t afraid of the comma. In her 2006 novel, Like Clockwork, she uses two commas in her opening sentence. Gasp, again.

13   9
RESPONSES (23)
  1. Anonymous says:

    Examples please, of full article where the comma has been neglected without reason.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  2. brandon edmonds says:

    Not sure COMMA bro COMMA what the fuck you’re going on about SLASH this pedantic folderol sadly suggests a writer venturing up his own colon BRACKET which COMMA granted COMMA may well be preferable to Berlin EXPRESSION MARK BRACKET FULL STOP

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  3. Phumlani says:

    Kudos Sean.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  4. margie says:

    OMIGOD, Sean is a COMMAHEAD! Unless he eats, shoots and leaves there is no hope for this fine critic …

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  5. The JZA says:

    Kill, Brandon Edmonds.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  6. Anonymous says:

    I’m sorry, am I the only one that found this completely inane? Think Mahala’s editors should exercise a bit more discretion in choosing their writers.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  7. Alex Fray says:

    Hi Sean, would you rather see an article with a lot of commas and other grammatical elements then know at all. Even though some of the commas are not in the right place!

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  8. sleaze says:

    In a week where our most glorious leader’s loins give forth to a 21st legal ( thus taxed payer founded) sprog and another becomes a paper billionaire at the ripe old age of 28, at a time when our public sector descends into even more chaos, where already ineffective public schools and hospitals are left in the lurch and where the threat of draconian freedom of information acts threaten to take us the way of North Korea, Mahala gives us the inside edge on of all things the insidious lack of commas.

    Pass me that that fiddle Nero!

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  9. ngwenya says:

    Hmmm. This is what results when we let our grammatcial standards drop: “Hi Sean, would you rather see an article with a lot of commas and other grammatical elements then know at all…” I can’t figure out what you mean, Alex Fray?
    C’mon, peeps, lighten up! This was a jokey way of highlighting that nasty para:
    “Any person who attempts, conspires with any other person, or aids, abets, induces, instigates, instructs or commands, counsels or procures another person to commit an offence in terms of this Act, is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to the punishment to which a person convicted of actually committing that offence would be liable.”
    Which is pretty grotesque, Stalinesque, outrageous, repressive (I can go on adding commas for hours here)…

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  10. margie says:

    The Protection of Information Bill is indeed as nasty as you can get. Come and be heard, commas and all, at the Book Lounge at 71 Roeland Street on Monday 23rd of August. They are hosting a discussion, along with South AFrican PEN, about what to do about this. check it out. Free the Word…

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  11. Alex Fray says:

    Ngwenya, What I mean would you as a reader rather read an article with a lot of commas, then none at all. Even though some of the commas are not necessary.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  12. Andy says:

    Jesus you guys missed the point… the story is not about commas it’s about the Protection of Information Bill… talk about not seeing the wood for the trees.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  13. Bunny Gatsby says:

    Christ, Edmonds, pay afuckingttention and take a tip from a pro.

    The profligate Prince of Pith, with his cloak of insufferably obscure reference and arcane words, daring to point fingers about ‘a writer venturing up his own colon’?

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  14. Hipster Douche says:

    Ol Bunny Gatsby got Edmonds’ number… spot o writer envy creeping in there?

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  15. Somnambulist says:

    Alex Fray it’s “than” not “then” – “than none at all”. For someone harping on about proper usage of grammar et al you’re nigh on unintelligible.

    Also, please shut the christ up, if any of you actually think this is about commas you either can’t read or are profoundly stupid.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  16. maxi says:

    Andy. This is about commas *and* the freedom of information bill. Nowadays it’s okay to come out and say you’re serious about punctuation – even that you really dig it – and there’s a whole genre of very smart, witty journalism out there that toys with grammar and punctuation as analogy. This piece doesn’t qualify for that category.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  17. Legit art enthusiast says:

    Yup, quite right maxi (does that even count as a name?). This piece is more like a dull riff being hammered out by a stoner that you want to punch, but somehow manners, fear, resentment, whatever, get in the way of the follow through. Thwack. Accepted. Perhaps all I’m saying here, aside from tipping my hat to Margie and PEN, is that rote ways of telling can get, well, slightly boring. Call me anal, oh sorry, Brandon already did, but a bit of variety would be nice. The comma, unlike the period, allows doubt, ambiguity, even indecision to enter the mix. PS: I’m in Switzerland.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  18. Sean O'Fool says:

    to further underscore maxi’s insight, read pico iyer on the comma. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,967673,00.html

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  19. Andy says:

    OK Maxi… you’re right. there should have been an “and” in there, or at least a comma.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  20. Cantankerous says:

    I can’t figure where the comma should go in this phrase: “by know by now”

    Overall, I’m with Sean though.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  21. Eva Bogiages says:

    I assume that O’Toole’s excessive (and clumsy) use of the comma in this article is to create irony. Or perhaps to achieve a tongue-in-cheek tone? Hopefully, one of these reasons.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  22. Anonymous says:

    ,

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

LEAVE A REPLY

Loading...