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Archive for Sunday, February 25, 2001

Mr. Language is consumed by commas

February 25, 2001

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It is with great decrepitude that we present another episode of "Ask Mister Language Person," the column that was recently voted "Best American Grammar Column in America" by a panel of Florida voters who were actually trying to order Chinese food.

The philosophy of this column is simple: if you have good language skills, you will be respected and admired; whereas if you clearly have no clue about grammar or vocabulary, you could become president of the United States. The choice is yours!

We shall commence today's column right at the outset with a "punctuation" question:

Q. I, am never sure, when, to use, commas.

A. You should use a comma whenever you have a need to pause in a sentence.

EXAMPLE: "So me and Tiffany were at the mall and she ate like four of those big fudge squares which is why her butt is the size of a Volkswagen Jetta I don't know WHAT Jason sees in, wait a minute I'm getting another call."

To indicate a longer pause, use more commas:

EXAMPLE: "Then the earth,,,,,,,,,, cooled off."

Q. I am a medical doctor, and when I am around laypersons, I use the word "infarction" as often as possible. For example, if a patient comes in with an ingrown toenail, I'll examine it with a serious facial expression, which I learned in medical school, then I'll say: "I'm afraid you have an infarction." Or: "This is seriously infarcted." Then I'll go into the hall and laugh until I have boogers on my stethoscope. My question is: How come they're called "laypersons?"

A. We have often wondered that ourselves.

Q. Please tell me what is grammatically wrong with this sentence: "Walking down the street, the sun shone brightly."

A. This is a classical example of what grammarians call a pluperfect connubial imprecation, which, in layperson's terms, means that it violates state and federal health-warning laws. The sentence must be re-worded as follows: "Walking down the street, the sun shone brightly, which can cause skin cancer."

Q. What is the correct spelling of the word "liaison"?

A. Nobody knows.

Q. I am disturbed by the words to "Pat-A-Cake," which go: "Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man." Does this mean that the baker's man is actually back there patting the cakes?

A. He is seeking professional help.

Q. How come a refrigerator is called a "re"-frigerator?

A. Because it should be used only for foods that have already been frigerated at some previous time.

Q. What if they have not?

A. Then you are running a very serious risk of infarction.

Q. What is the Internet address of the Lake Tahoe Incline Village/Crystal Bay Visitors Bureau?

A. It is "www.gotahoe.com."

Q. Ho ho! Speaking of which, can you flagrantly pad out the end of this column with real-life examples of language usage sent in by alert readers?

A. Certainly:

Kathryn Chmurny sent in a restaurant coupon from the North County (Calif.) Times for a $17.95 dinner for two that includes "1/2 giraffe" of wine.

Chris Queen sent in an article from the Livingston County (Mich.) Daily Press and Argus headlined: "Search for Woman in Fertilized Egg Suit Goes Nationwide."

Gary Tucker sent in a sports story from the Aug. 21, 1999, issue of The Seattle Times concerning a Mariners-Indians game featuring a strong performance by Cleveland pitcher Bartolo Colon, with the following headline, which we swear we are not making up: "Bad Whiff of Colon."

Q. Talk about infarctions.

A. We're guessing that the headline writer had consumed several giraffes.

TODAY'S WRITING TIP: When writing a business letter or other professional communication, always conclude with a strong "action statement" that shows you "mean business."

WRONG: "Sincerely."

RIGHT: "I will play tetherball with your spleen."

GOT A QUESTION FOR MISTER LANGUAGE PERSON? Har.




Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald.

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