Friday, May 12, 2006

Piss Me Off: Commas

I apologize for hitting you all with two linguistic Piss Me Offs in a row. I had a nice Golden Week vacation but now it's time to get all worked up again.

So I'm at work today, writing an exam. The exam is for my university ESL Conversation class which uses Cambridge University Press's Interchange Third Edition as a text. As such, I'm writing questions based on material from Interchange when it dawns on me: This textbook is poorly written.

So I turn to my co-worker and I say something to the effect of, "This textbook is poorly written." And my co-worker responds by pointing to the name on the cover and saying, "He's rich, you know." The name on the cover is Jack C. Richards, who is a self-described "renowned specialist in second and foreign language teaching" (and a Jesse Jace-described "charlatan with a truckload of ill-gotten money").

Witness, for example, this sentence from a grammar review exercise in the back of Interchange 1:

In your e-mail message, you asked me: "What do I do everyday?"

This sentence is very telling. It has one of the aforementioned extra commas, to say nothing of the idiotic "What do I do everyday" part. And four of the next seven sentences in the passage also contain at least one extra comma each.

I know the average English speaker doesn't use commas correctly. Hell, I know my own faults. For one, I over-hyphenate (but that hyphen I typed just now was necessary, okay?). Then again, the average English speaker isn't making a ton of money off his own badly-executed attempt at language education and website whose URL contains the word "professor." Being a New Zealand native is just one more strike against him because...well...have you ever talked to someone from New Zealand? When they say the word "mouse" it comes out sounding like "mayouse" or some such nonsense.

Jack C. Richards (the "C" is for "commas") has fallen out of my favor, just like Mona Stiles before him. If I ever meet him I'm going to write on the back of his hand in permanent marker: WHEN IN DOUBT LEAVE IT OUT.

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