All I wanted for Christmas was a comma.
That small curl could have brought peace on Earth for my family. Instead, some Scrooge set out erroneously to decrease the surplus punctuation, then added insult to injury by dangling a modifier rather than holly and lowercasing words rather than capitalizing on the Christmas spirit.
Before long, our holiday season turned into a bloody awful scene that could inspire a Coen brothers sequel, "True Wit."
I offer this cautionary tale in hopes that you will make a New Year's resolution to watch your grammar so that 2011 will be known as the Writer's Year of the 3 C's—clear, concise and coherent — not crime, confusion and cacophony.
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Our holiday episode began innocently enough when I opened a Christmas card and saw this scribbled inside:
"Happy Holidays to you and your wife Anne."
What an outrage, I thought. Imagine using a sacred occasion to accuse a man of a crime like bigamy, if not polygamy.
By dropping the comma before "Anne," my alleged and now former friend implied that I was keeping another wife or two on the side. The holiday card might as well have read:
"Happy Holidays to you and your wife Anne. Say hi to your wives Sally and Martha, too!"
There's something romantically monogamous about a comma. Without it you feel naked.
With it, as in "my wife, Anne," that little curl shouts, "You are my one and only!" How lovely the comma and how sad when someone thoughtlessly drops it.
The holiday card rolled on with a story or two, including this line:
"Looming large on the horizon, I saw the Christmas tree we would chop down."
Feeling charitable, I was not. I couldn't help but think my accuser had obviously been spending too much time at the cookie tray.
After all, "looming," a present participle acting as an adjective, modifies the first word after the comma. So what was looming? My fatheaded friend, of course!
Then came this:
"After we brought our tree home, we went to a catholic church that offers only one english service. There we saw our new mayor, looking like neither a democrat nor a republican."
Saints preserve us, I thought. Did he really mean a universal church offering religion with a backspin? Could the new mayor be a political party pooper taking his cues out of ancient Greece?
My mind reeled in search of a capital "C" to restore the Roman Catholic tradition, it ping-ponged back and forth in pursuit of a capital "E" to uphold the English language, and it recalled our new mayor was a registered Democrat, even though he was elected in a non-partisan race. No, my friends, not all business people are members of the Republican Party.
If you feel my pain, having read your own holiday cards or Facebook greetings or e-mails, please let me know. Send along those examples so I can use them as I develop a new one-credit required course on grammar for all our journalism students at the University of Kentucky. It's a battle not just for language but for credibility, and we can use all the reinforcements we can get.
All I want for next Christmas is a comma, as in "Thank you, Professor Ryan."