Gravity's Rainbow

botany, shoes, books, and justice

On correct punctuation


From Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog:

I open the envelope and read this little note written on a business card whose surface is so glossy that the ink, to the dismay of the defeated blotter, has bled slightly underneath each letter.

Madame Michel,

Would you be so kind as, to sign for the packages from the dry cleaner’s this afternoon?

I’ll pick them up at your loge this evening.

Scribbled signature

I collapse in shock on the nearest chair.  I even begin to wonder if I am not going mad.  Does this have the same effect on you, when this sort of thing happens?

Let me explain:

The cat is sleeping.

You’ve just read a harmless little sentence, and it has not caused you any pain or sudden fits of suffering, has it? Fair enough.

Now read again:

The cat, is sleeping.

Let me repeat it, so that there is no cause for ambiguity:

The cat comma is sleeping.

The cat, is sleeping.

Would you be so kind as, to sign for.

On the one hand we have an example of a prodigious use of the comma that takes great liberties with language, as said commas have been inserted quite unnecessarily, but to great effect:

I have been much blamed, both for war, and for peace . . .

And on the other hand, we have this dribbling scribbling on vellum, courtesy of Sabine Pallières, this comma slicing the sentence in half with all the trenchancy of a knife blade:

Would you be so kind as, to sign for the packages from the dry cleaner’s?

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