Saturday, September 18, 2010

Punctuation Saves Lives! (Another illustration of commas with direct addresses)

Facebook, it seems, proves to be a venerable buffet of errors in punctuation, grammar, and spelling. This morning, I came across this little gem (whose author shall remain anonymous!):

"Damn we going to eat good people!"

Ignoring the incorrect use of the present progressive in the author's verb, your eyes might be drawn to the more hilarious problem at work here—eat good people! Because of the way this sentence is written, it appears that the noun phrase good people is the direct object of the sentence's main verb, eat. A direct object is the element in a sentence that directly receives the action of a verb—it answers the question of "what?" or "whom?" In the case of this particular sentence, the direct object would answer the question of "eat what?" or "eat whom?"

That's right: eat good people. In other words, we are going to eat people who are good.

Most readers of that sentence, however, would probably safely assume that the author is not revealing his or her cannibalistic tendencies, but is rather addressing an audience, whom he or she refers to as people. The author is telling people that we going to eat good or, more correctly, that "we are going to eat well." To avoid causing certain readers to spit out their Special K cereal during their casual perusals of social networking Web sites, the author should make it clear that he or she is directly addressing an audience by inserting a comma to separate the addressee from the rest of the sentence. Thus, the sentence would read, "Damn we going to eat good, people!"

There. Now we know that people aren't going to be eaten.

Oh, and on a somewhat related but somewhat less important note, one should also insert commas to set off interjections in sentences. Words like "yes," "no," "hi," and "bye" as well as emotive expressions like "ugh," "ahem," "wow," and "gosh" are interjections. Damn, which is a markedly more intensified variation of "darn," would fall into the interjection category—it's a word that, as Wikipedia puts it, expresses an isolated emotion related to the rest of the sentence. Anyway, with commas properly in place to set off interjections and direct addresses, the sentence above would read, "Damn, we going to eat good, people!"

So, remember, folks: A comma is sometimes the only difference between an innocent call for joyful merriment and a merciless command to evoke humanity's most ignoble instincts!

"Let's eat, Grandma!" vs. "Let's eat Grandma!" Which one do you mean?

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