Recently I read an article over at A List Apart talking about hyphenation and the web. I’m not much of a web developer, but I take a keen interest in new web technologies, especially when it comes to fonts and grammar. It got me thinking about some grammatical nuggets I’ve mentioned before, but only in passing. I’m a bit of a a stickler for grammar[1. I’m a stickler, but by no means an expert. I’m no academic. I don’t remember the finer points of grammar very well at all. It’s entirely possible that any ‘facts’ I put forward are incorrect. If this is the case, feel free to correct me in the comments — If it’s a minor correction I’ll probably make the change. But if I’m building my whole blog article on a mistake, please keep that shit to yourself :)] although you wouldn’t tell by reading my, um, ‘prose’. I guess I like the idea of grammar, and as such I have a few additions I’d like to make to the English language.
Addition #1: Extra comma in groups
As far as I remember, I was taught not to put a comma between the last two items in a group — a group being a sentence with multiple items divided by commas. For example:
On a recent trip to Pangkor Island, I encountered a scorpion, some fish, monkeys, sea lice and two hornbills.
In the above example, “sea lice” and “two hornbills” have no comma between them, yet they are distinctly different things. Without a comma they appear to be grouped together. “Ahh” you might say, “…we all know that they aren’t together, because we’ve been taught what you and everyone else has been taught, and we can make and understand the distinction.” Well, that might be true, but consider this more complex example:
We sat down to a dinner of soup, pasta, salad, fish and chips.
In this example, I want “fish” and “chips” to be two separate items. Many people would read this as “fish and chips” — one item — because that’s what fried food from the local fish and chips shop is known as. But in this case, the fish was grilled at home, and the chips were brought by someone else. I want them to be separate items because they are, in my example, separate dishes. How can I acheive this? With an extra comma:
We sat down to a dinner of soup, pasta, salad, fish, and chips.
The above example clearly separates “fish” and “chips” as two dishes, avoiding misinterpretation. You might think that, yes, it could work in such cases, but I think it’s a generally better implementation of the rule. I can’t see any disadvantage by adding this extra comma in all cases. Let’s revisit the first example, this time adding the extra comma before the last item in the group, to see if it still makes sense:
On a recent trip to Pangkor Island, I encountered a scorpion, some fish, monkeys, sea lice, and two hornbills.
Yep, still reads the same way. I’ve been using this extra comma in my writing for a while now. I think it should be the new status quo. Sentence groupings 2.0.
Addition #2: Extra apostrophe (double contraction)
Another grammar improvement I’ve been using for a while — albeit a bit tongue-in-cheek — is the double contraction. An example:
It wouldn’t’ve exploded if you hadn’t doused it in petrol.
Wouldn’t’ve. Would not have. We often use a single contraction in speech and writing: wasn’t, I’m, you’re, instead of was not, I am, you are. But when we speak we sometimes use double conjunctions: wouldn’t’ve, instead of wouldn’t have or would not have, and shouldn’t’ve, instead of shouldn’t have or should not have. I want to formalise my tongue-in-cheek use of the double contraction. I want it to be grammatically legal.
Addition #3: Commexclamation and commestion marks
These grammar additions are a little more involved than the previous two. They require not just legalisation by the people who police the English language, they require new glyphs to be designed, introduced, and accepted. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Seems a bit out there? Think about it for a minute. You’ll realise these have a place in the English language, and I’m not the first to think so. An example:
Holy shit! yelled Benny.
A perfect instance where an commexclamation mark could be used. The sentence reads like it has a comma and not a full stop (or period, for my US fans). Same concept for the commestion mark:
She had so many questions: where are you going? when are you going? and why?
As it is it makes sense — I doesn’t look our sound wrong — but the flow of the sentence is inconsistent with normal comma and full stop usage. A question mark is essentially a full stop. A full stop is where you should take a breath whereas a comma needs a pause. In theory, this example would be interrupted with short breaths. But what if the subject was panicked and asked her questions in quick succession? A full breath here would be too much of a pause. Instead, the commestion mark would imply all the questions were asked in quick succession, reading like this:
She had so many questions: where are you going, when are you going, and why?
Smell what I’m cooking? These glyphs give the humble exclamation and question marks new flexibility, as well as consistency with the way plain commas and full stops are used. Let’s make a push for the commexclamation and commestion marks. Who’s with me? (Yeah, we can think of better names…)
Bonus addition: Snakebite
Let’s all agree to change the name of ‘:’ from “colon” to “snakebite”. Chris taught me this. Snakebite. It just makes sense. It’s genius.