Opinion: Puzzling punctuation situation


About 10 years ago the comma on my smartphone stopped working. Now almost a decade later the comma key is stuck on my desktop computer. Maybe it’s just a cracker crumb lodged in the key. I usually snack when I write my column, but I am proud to say that all the food groups are represented.

Where did my comma key go? I had plenty of other punctuation marks — which I really enjoyed using. But I wanted my comma back! Wouldn’t you?

Much has been written about how a comma can change the meaning of a sentence. A bestselling book titled “Eats Shoots and Leaves” has a comma after the word “Eats” describing a murderer who pauses for a snack before firing at his intended victim. Without the comma it’s a simple description of the dietary habits of a koala.

So where did my comma go? I went to the cellphone store. The sales rep asked, “Is it really that important to have a comma on your phone?”

“Yes it’s important. You can’t write a newspaper column without commas” (as I’m attempting to do now).

John was perplexed so he fiddled with the phone.

“I can’t find the comma anywhere but I can get you another question mark. Would that help??”

“I don’t want any extra punctuation marks. I have enough trouble finishing a sentence the way it is …”

“I do admit this is weird Mr. Wolfsie.”

“See? You made my point. You just called me weird Mr. Wolfsie.”

“No I didn’t. I said this was weird then I paused and then I said Mr. Wolfsie.”

I explained one more time that finding the comma was crucial to being precise and avoiding confusion.

“When was the last time you remember using a comma on your phone Mr. Wolfsie?”

“Well last week I texted my wife a list of things I wanted her to get at the supermarket: hot dogs beans soda apples lettuce potato chips cookies canned soup.”

“Did you punctuate that sentence correctly?”

“Of course. I’m very punctual.”

“That’s a lot of commas for one text. Which plan are you on?”

“You’re telling me I get unlimited minutes but not unlimited commas?”

We weren’t making progress so the store manager finally stepped in and said to his employee, “It’s your lunch hour. Why don’t you go eat John?”

I don’t know who John is but apparently he’s very tasty.

They eventually fixed my phone and I was very grateful.

Update: I just brushed between the keys on my desktop keyboard to get that comma working again. However, I think I might have moved some food particles to another computer key.

You’ll never guess which one.