The other punctuation marks have two to three gigs, but the comma has landed a ton- probably because, like Seacrest, it’s small and cute.
But, as we know, popularity and success inspire rumors: gay rumors, gerbil rumors, cryogenically frozen rumors, insured body part rumors. Well, the comma has not escaped scandal. The biggest rumor spread about the comma (probably cooked up by some lazy grammar teacher who didn’t want to teach all the rules) is that we insert a comma whenever we pause. And, like all the rumors we want to believe (I’m still waiting for Tupac’s big comeback), everyone embraced it. But, unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
I wish it were that simple; it would make my job a hell of a lot easier. But, although we do pause when we see a comma, we shouldn’t use a comma every time we pause.
I’m going to use an excerpt from when Larry King interviewed Ryan Seacrest back in 2004 to show you how we incorrectly use a comma for pausing purposes. For this to work, we have to pretend that Ryan and Larry were writing notes back and forth to each other instead of speaking, and we also have to pretend that Ryan used the wrong punctuation (although, in what kind of sick world would a person achieve multi-millionaire status without a mastery of punctuation?).
So, anyway, someone called into the Larry King Show and asked Ryan (in writing…wink wink), “ In light of these gay rumors, are you dating anybody?”
And, Ryan responded
I am, I do have a girlfriend.
Now, Ryan was wrong to use a comma because it’s incorrect to use a comma between two complete sentences, and he wrote these two complete sentences:
1. I am. (It’s a short sentence, but it’s still complete: it has a subject, verb and completes a thought).
2. I do have a girlfriend.
Most of the time we insert a period after one complete sentence and then start the next one, and Ryan could have done that, but I can see why he didn’t want to. A period is so strong, so final. It cuts the sentences off from one another, and Ryan didn’t want to do that. He wanted to connect the fact that he was dating someone with the fact that that somebody was a female- immediately. Therefore, he used a comma, which doesn’t create quite as strong of a pause as a period.
But, he could have dispelled the rumors without resorting to grammatical incorrectness.
He could have used the semi-colon. Most of us have seen the ; but don’t really know when to use it.
Well, it comes in handy during times like these when we have written two sentences that we want to keep together, like these:
I am; I do have a girlfriend.
My partner’s name is Willy; it’s short for Willimina.
Of course I'm gay; gay means happy.