My friends. My dear, dear friends. Let me preface this by saying how much I love commas. Commas are sexy. Commas allow one to nest asides and qualifiers within asides and qualifiers, and if your audience is mentally nimble enough to follow along, boom, you’re the next Nabakov. In fact, this is my very favorite sentence in the English language:
The challenge was accepted; two native seconds were chosen; the Baron plumped for swords; and after a certain amount of good blood (Polish and Irish — a kind of American “Gory Mary” in barroom parlance) had bespattered two hairy torsoes, the white-washed terrace, the flight of steps leading backward to the walled garden in an amusing Douglas d’Artagnan arrangement, the apron of a quite accidental milkmaid, and the shirtsleeves of both seconds, charming Monsieur de Pastrouil and Colonel St. Alin, a scoundrel, the latter gentlemen separated the panting combatants, and Skonky died, not “of his wounds” (as it was viciously rumored) but of a gangrenous afterthought on the part of the least of them, possibly self-inflicted, a sting in the groin, which caused circulatory trouble, notwithstanding quite a few surgical interventions during two or three years of protracted strays at the Aardvark Hospital in Boston — a city where, incidentally, he married in 1869 our friend the Bohemian lady, now keeper of Glass Biota at the local museum.
–Vladimir Nabakov, Ada, or Ardor
Yes. There are 168 words in that sentence. Thanks for upping my blog wordcount, Vlad! I also start sentences with the word “but” all the time. You’re not the boss of me, Strunk and White! I like it when writers break the rules. Rules are meant to be broken. So I’m not a grammar Nazi. I am not.
However, when it comes to the written word, there are certain things that drive me utterly batty, and one of those things is when people begin a sentence with the word “but” followed by a comma without a parenthetical statement. Like so:
I’d love to stay and chat. But, I have to go.
But, he couldn’t be my son! I’ve never even been to Portugal!
Yes, yes, you have cancer. But, what about me?
…Sweet zombie Jesus, I hate that. HATE. IT. It is just horribly, completely, and unequivocally wrong. There’s no way around it. Unfortunately, I see it everywhere. In articles. On message boards. In blogs. I ran across it in Wikipedia today. And every time I see this crime against the English language, my head literally explodes. Then I have to bum rides from people for at least the next week because it is not safe to drive without a head. Continue reading