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ES&L occasionally made me feel like a drunken pedant. Truss declares, for example, that words ending in “s” must use an apostrophe followed by another “s.” But this is not the only way — or so it seems to me. I prefer to use just the apostrophe, and this is perfectly acceptable usage. Grammar is sometimes a matter of taste.
But then sometimes it isn’t, and much can ride on a mere comma. There is the story of Sir Roger Casement, the Irish nationalist “hanged on a comma,” it was said, in 1916. He was charged under the Treason Act of 1351, which was written in Norman French and completely unpunctuated — making interpretation rather ambiguous.
Less grave, but no less closely argued, is the case of Graham Greene’s Comma. On his deathbed, the novelist inserted one in a statement giving his authorized biographer, Norman Sherry, access to his papers at Georgetown University. Does this comma restrict access solely to Sherry? Georgetown’s librarian thinks so, but Greene’s own son does not.
So take that, young text messengers, with your punctuation-free prose. Truss argues that the Internet Age has made language education more important than ever, now that practically everyone is a writer of some sort: a blogger, a reviewer at Amazon.com, or just an e-mail correspondent. Now that “People who have been taught nothing about their own language are (contrary to educational expectations) spending all their leisure hours attempting to string sentences together for the edification of others.”
As Truss explains in the introduction, punctuation is analogous to good manners. She notes that “punctuation” has the same root as “punctilious,” which means “attentive to formality or etiquette.”
It is no surprise why so few modern Americans know how to use a comma. It is for the same reason that they ignore RSVPs, immediately call their friends’ parents by their first names, and don’t bother to send thank-you notes. These are not mere trivialities. As Emily Post wrote in her 1922 book, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home, “manner is personality — the outward manifestation of one’s innate character and attitude toward life.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?