Discussing Commas in Casual Conversation

(Editor’s Note, the blog this week is from  Megan over at her blog Megan Mallory Martin! She is a fantastic writer, editor and educator and I’m so proud to call her a friend.)

Have you ever noticed that sometimes when a doctor or a lawyer introduces himself to you as a doctor or a lawyer, suddenly you can think of a million questions to help yourself get free advice? “Doctor, I’ve had this pain in my side for three weeks – could it be serious?” Or maybe, “Lawyer, I’d like to sue my neighbor – do you think I have a case?”

It just seems that some professions lend themselves to that kind of thing. For instance, my husband is a veterinarian. While walking through our neighborhood a few weekends ago, we bumped into someone who was walking his dog. Not surprisingly, a casual “Hi, how’s the weather?” conversation became a discussion about whether the dog might have been bitten by a tick and whether the owner needed to worry about his dog having Lyme disease.

My husband was quite happy to dispense some free advice and put the owner’s mind at ease, but the whole encounter got me thinking. How often does this happen to people who are in certain professions like medical or veterinary medicine? And how come it doesn’t happen in other professions – like teaching or writing? I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen at all in other professionals, but it just doesn’t seem to be as common.

I’m a professional writer and editor, and I have a secret desire to dispense free grammatical advice whenever possible – while doing something mundane like standing in line at the grocery store, for instance. My dream conversation would go something like this:

“You’re a writer?” asks the person behind me in the checkout line, while holding his peas and carrots.

“Yes, I really enjoy words and editing for grammatical mistakes,” I say.

“That’s great! Could you help me understand the difference between their, there, and they’re? Or perhaps we could discuss the Oxford comma? I have many questions about that as well.”

And then, in a complete state of grammatical bliss, I would begin to help the poor lost soul who needs editing assistance. Imagine how much more intelligent everyone would sound if we discussed commas in casual conversation! Our control over our own language would increase, our writing would improve, and of course, it goes without saying that we would improve our ability to communicate with each other.

Plus, this would never happen:


Definitely visit writing.com on Facebook. You will find tons of great images just like this!


I know I’m not the only one who feels like this. I’m currently reading through Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss, which I highly recommend, and the author—a self-proclaimed grammar stickler—cringes when she encounters certain situations where the rules for proper grammar and punctuation just don’t exist. As she writes, “I’m well aware there is little profit in asking for sympathy for sticklers. We are not the easiest people to feel sorry for. We refuse to patronize any shop with checkouts for ‘eight items or less’ (because it should be ‘fewer’)….” For those of us with a seventh sense for proper grammar (as Truss calls it), just reading billboards on the way to work can bring on a nasty headache. (Side note: Truss’ book is written using grammatical elements common in the United Kingdom, which are not the same for the U.S. Admittedly, that can get a little interesting for U.S. grammar sticklers.)

It’s possible that I’d get tired of dispensing free advice after awhile if people really did ask me about commas in casual conversation, but I kind of doubt it. If I could rid the world of poorly placed commas or other such grammatical faux pas, I’d be a happy camper – even if it happened slowly with one grocery store conversation at a time!


One thought on “Discussing Commas in Casual Conversation

  1. Pingback: Writerly Round-Up: November Edition | Megan Mallory Martin

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