Comma Sense: A Fun-Damental Guide to Punctuation

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Overview

Are you confounded by commas, addled by apostrophes, or queasy about quotation marks? Do you believe a bracket is just a support for a wall shelf, a dash is something you make for the bathroom, and a colon and semicolon are large and small intestines? If so, language humorists Richard Lederer and John Shore (with the sprightly aid of illustrator Jim McLean) have created the perfect book to help make your written words perfectly precise and punctuationally profound.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Comma Sense is a clear, entertaining, and just plain helpful guide to the American rules of punctuation."

—-Lynne Truss, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves

"Of my 465 books on punctuation—-I've read them all—-Comma Sense is the wisest and funniest. It's the only one you really need."

—-Bryan A. Garner, author of Garner's Modern American Usage

"A thorough field guide to the pesky little critters of the punctuation forest.

Lederer and Shore hit the marks!"

—-Bill Walsh, author of The Elephants of Style

"Who else would call the exclamation point 'this titan of tingle, this prince of palpitation'? Who else would call the apostrophe the Jesse James of punctuation? Who else would compare the dash to Fred Astaire, the semicolon to Duke Ellington, and parentheses (yes, my darlings) to Louella Parsons? It can only be Richard Lederer, Viceroy of Verbivores, and his trusty sidekick, John Shore."

—-Patricia T. O'Conner, author of Woe Is I

"Punctuation needn't be perplexing or painful, as Richard Lederer and John Shore make abundantly clear.Comma Sense is full of easy-to-understand guidance for the grammatically challenged—-and loads of laughs besides!"

—- Martha Barnette, author of Dog Days and Dandelions

"If America had 'Living National Treasures,' the way Japan and Korea do, Richard Lederer would be one."

—-Barbara Wallraff, author of Your Own Words

Writing well is important for business, but it also can be crucial in love, the writers warn. Do you want to say, "I would like to tell you that I love you. I can't stop thinking that you are one of the prettiest women on Earth," or "I would like to tell you that I love you. I can't. Stop thinking that you are one of the prettiest women on Earth." As Lederer and Shore say, "Punctuation can mean the difference between a second date and a restraining order."

—-Margo Hammond, St. Petersburg Times

"Lederer and Shore's Comma Sense-bear in mind that it's their first collaboration-is speckled with humor so lame that it keeps falling on its assonance." Whoever wrote that callous, brutal comment about Comma Sense must be lacking in their own sense of humor. Oh, wait, that comment was written by Lederer and Shore. My mistake. Yes, this book is truly unique! If language can be considered a cartoon, then Comma Sense is Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Road Runner, Batman, the Far Side, Charlie Brown, and Donald Duck all rolled into one. Each chapter is devoted to one of 13 punctuation marks. These punctuation marks have fun, make fun, and are fun! My favorite is the dash, who is compared to Fred Astaire: "The dash emboldens eloquence; Fred Astaire embodies elegance. Plus, they're both skinny." Comma Sense spins tales that sound like facts until you realize that they co-exist with punctuation marks in the wild and crazy world of Ledererean lingofantasy. "Little Shirley Temple chirped, '…And most of all, I'd like to thank that most wonderful of punctuation marks, the hyphen, which I personify!'" Seriously, this book has been cited as the clearest source on punctuation ever written. It is necessary for saving the human race from its dangerous slide into a punctuationless exclamation point of no return! It tells you everything you wanted to know about punctuation but were afraid to ask. If you want to see punc rock, open the pages of this comprehensive, hilarious book. Here is a song you will find in it that showcases the seven coordinating conjunctions. It is sung to the tune of the Julie Andrews smash hit, "Do, Re, Mi." Go ahead and sing it out loud! If your neighbors complain, give them this review and tell them to buy the book!

And, a word, a real small word;

But, it's spelled with just one t;

Or, a stick we use to row;

Nor, half of a cold countreeeee;

Yet, you bet it rhymes with wet;

For, one number more than three;

So a button on your fly-

And that brings us back to do, re, mi!

—-Dave Morice, Word Ways

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312342555
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 7/28/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 710,586
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.37 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Lederer is the author of more than thirty books on the English language, including Anguished English, A Man of My Words, and Word Wizard. His syndicated column, "Looking at Language," appears in newspapers and magazines nationwide and he is a language commentator on public radio.

John Shore is the author of I'm OK—-You're Not: The Message We're Sending Nonbelievers and Why We Should Stop, and Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang.

Both authors live in San Diego, California.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

There are only three ways a sentence can end—

With an exclamation point:

You won!

With a question mark:

You won?

Or with a period:

I know you won, but I'm having trouble believing it.

That's it. Those are your choices. Every sentence that's not an exclamation or a question must end with a period. And because people are by and large too proud to ask too many questions and too shy to go around hollering all the time, the vast (not the half-vast) majority of sentences are what are called declarative statements—statements that just say something and therefore end in a period.

It is difficult to think of any other instance in life in which something as small as the period carries so much clout. It's a mark so dinky that farsighted fleas court it. Yet virtually any declarative statement—a picturesque description, a mild directive, a thoughtful observation, or a wandering exposition that starts out as if it's going somewhere specific but about halfway through makes clear enough that if it ever does pull in anywhere, it'll do so carrying the corpses of whatever readers were unlucky enough to have climbed aboard it in the first place—must stop whenever the period says it's time.

Verily is the period the crosswalk guard of our language.

If only there were any famous crosswalk guards, we could use one of them right here as a metaphor for the period. But, of course, most of us never give a thought to those stalwart sedan stoppers except when we're watching them from inside our cars, feeling weird about how much we, too, want to wear a cop's hat and a bright orange vest and hold up a big sign stopping all the cars so little kids can be on their scholarly little way.

That's why we resist making crosswalk guards famous: It ticks us off that they have better jobs than we do. Why should they get any more glory? They've got their hats, their signs, their cool sashes, their white gloves. That's enough. Any more, and they'll feel empowered enough to start shooting out our tires to stop us.

No, as a metaphor for the period the crosswalk guard won't do at all.

We need someone small. Someone powerful. Someone who at first seemed to have no potential. Someone with attitude. Someone with finishing power.

We need Seabiscuit!

He's small: Sizewise, Seabiscuit was closer to a merry-go-round horse than a stakes-hogging racehorse.

He's powerful: In a much-ballyhooed match race, Seabiscuit spotted the stately War Admiral whole hands and still whipped him.

Even equine experts didn't think that the plucky little horse had any potential: There was a time when Seabiscuit couldn't be given away. (Just as, in the beginning, no one thought the period would be able to reach the finish line, let alone stop the most puffed up of sentences. The giant, imposing question mark was supposed to be the punctuation leader—and you see how that turned out.)

He's got attitude: Seabiscuit liked to torment his fellow racehorses by always just beating them. (Just as the period seems to enjoy taunting letters and words by letting them think they might have a chance of ending up ahead of it. It's wrong to behave that way, of course—but sometimes that's the kind of attitude that makes a winner a winner.)

He's got finishing power. Seabiscuit surged to the finish line first in an awesomely high percentage of his races.

And finally, just as Seabiscuit needed a strong and thoughtful rider in order to do his best (Johnny "Red" Pollard and 'Biscuit had a special bond), so the period needs a strong and thoughtful writer to do its best. And that writer is you, friend. So get that foot up in that stirrup, swing that other leg up and over, and let's show these whippersnapper words how the little boys do it.

. A period marks the conclusion of any sentence that doesn't end with an exclamation point or a question mark:

Singing with utmost exuberance and abandon and filling in the music-only parts with dance steps reminiscent of how impossible it was to even walk in disco shoes, Bert delivered a karaoke version of K.C. and the Sunshine Band's "Get Down Tonight" that was a testimony to what it was about disco in the first place that compelled so many of us to drop out of high school.

Today Einstein's brain is stored in formaldehyde in a jar, in the hopes that future scientists will be able to figure out what exactly they're supposed to do with a brain in a jar.

. In U.S. punctuation, periods always—and we do mean always—go inside quotation marks.

They do things backwards in Britain, like driving on the wrong side of the road and serving warm beer and cold toast. But the Brits' system of placing the period outside quotation marks actually makes more sense. Still, we live in the U.S. of A., so we'll say it again:

. In U.S. punctuation, periods always—and we do mean always—go inside quotation marks:

"What I remember," said Carl as he lay upon his psychotherapist's couch being suddenly filled with early childhood memories, "is sitting in the middle of the floor of our old family room, wearing those white, plastic, over-the-diaper panty things. It was mortifying to have to sit around all day, looking like the fuse on a whipped cream bomb."

. Periods belong inside parentheses that enclose a freestanding sentence and outside parentheses that enclose material that is not a full statement:

The new album by the band Bob's Pock Mark is absolutely superb (bearing in mind, of course, that none of the band's members can sing or play any instruments). The guys in the band say that they're proud of songs such as "Love Backwards Is Evolve, Almost" and "Feed Me" because they're socially galvanizing, radically artistic messages. (They can be also be played on a haircomb.)

. Periods are also used with numbers, abbreviations, and initials:

1. Mr. E. Z. Rider

2. Ms. Q. T. Pie

3. Dr. M. T. Handed

4. Prof. I. V. Leaguer, Ph.D.

There. That's it. You're done. You now know everything there is to know about the period. Period. End of sentence.

Copyright © 2005 by Richard Lederer and John Shore. All Rights Reserved.

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