I am grateful to a reader, Linda, who brought my attention to a furore in the US over comma placement.
Linda pointed me to a clip from a news show telling of former vice-president Mike Pence being questioned about a comma in his book telling of the storming of Washington’s Capitol Building in 2021.
Mr Pence had written of a conversation with former president Donald Trump in which Pence said: “You know, I don’t think I have the authority to change the outcome” (referring to Trump denying the election result).
Pence declared that the comma shouldn’t be there. It was inserted by his editors.
The comma, as you can see, is pivotal. Removal changes the meaning of the sentence. It is the difference between being conversationally speculative and issuing a definitive refusal.
What surprised me was the seeming surprise of the shiny plastic American “newscasters” (strange word) that one comma could make such a difference.
Of course a comma makes a difference! All punctuation makes a difference. Punctuation marks are signposts that show the way through a sentence, leading to its meaning.
But if people who purport to be journalists, who make a living using words, are surprised at the importance of punctuation then what regard do other young people have for it?
Is teaching children what a sentence is, and what are its component parts, still taught in schools?
It is some time since I was at school, but friends who are teachers or have offspring who are teachers tell me of frustration in the teaching world at the time in their day wasted on non-teaching matters.
In anyone else’s place of work wasted time is missed profits. In a school it is sabotage of children’s future. Teachers have my sympathy.
Every child should be taught that a sentence has a subject, a verb and an object. And where the punctuation goes, and why it matters.
Now it seems that if you want English skills you can fully rely upon, acquiring them is something you’d have to go outside normal schooling to achieve. There is a lot to learn. You’d need a tutor, self-help videos or online courses.
That is a terrible state of affairs. What went wrong in our schooling?
As said, it’s several decades since I sat in a classroom so I am possibly wrong about the state of English language teaching. I hope I am.
Perhaps a current teacher could reassure me that language tuition is in safe hands? That children are given the time to fully grasp the building blocks of language.
Please, please do.
Word of the week
To raise, elevate. EG: “We should do all we can to hance the teaching, appreciation, and status of language, because the most important thing we do in life is communicate with each other.”
Read the latest Oh my word! every Saturday in The Courier. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org