Thursday, 17 August 2017

Comma Butterflies, and other grammatical beasts

Messing about with a wee writing game, which was to take a news headline
and run with it in some form or other.
So, a little silliness after a long blog silence...*
Couldn't resist the following headline on the BBC news website as I began to think of twitchy friends and grammar obsessions:

‘Extraordinary Comma Butterfly Colonises Scotland’ [web BBC headline 31 July, 2017]

It started with the apostrophes. In some places, they gathered like the plague; shop signage seemed a particular favourite for this intrusive wee beastie.  The humble tomato, when in company, soon found itself attacked and submissively turned into ‘tomatoe’s’ in greengrocer displays the length and breadth of the land. ‘Courgette’s’ soon followed, and later, the unmitigated horror that was ‘banana’s’. The apostrophe mite spread, moving out from the serried racks of assorted fruit and veg and into charity shops along the High Street: ‘book’s – 5 for a £1’ declared an Oxfam store, arrogantly.

As the egregious profusion of apostrophes began to dominate, a challenger came forth. Commas came and went; flying in when unwanted, and skulkily flitting even though needed. Determined to dominate Scotland, the Comma Butterflies bred and flourished and settled on signage, in a flurry of academic papers, in tabloid and broadsheet alike. The blighters were here to stay. Apostrophes were alarmed and the semi-colon no longer existed, wiped off the grammatical landscape. The profusion of loose-use commas saw sentences lengthen at an horrific rate. The lack of clarity was disturbing. Reaching beyond Scotland’s shores, the Comma Butterflies sought nothing less than world domination, infecting news reports. Shorter, punchier headlines began to create confusion as to character, or number. Was:
‘Trump, a Nazi and a fascist’ or, were there several people in the statement: ‘Trump, a Nazi, and a fascist’? Meanwhile, in a quiet, dusty, neglected section of the grammar garden, adverbs wept at the thought of their own futility, made powerless by their sheer invisibility.

In these dark times, however, one small group made a stand: quietly, passive-aggressive resistance created chinks of light in the bleakness. Grammar guerrillas armed with Sharpies, Tip-ex, and other correctional materials, began to fight back. ‘Tomatoe’s’ changed, overnight to ‘Tomatoes’. Adverbs were inserted into advertising billboards: the car promising ‘a real smooth ride’ now ‘really’ meant it. Daringly correct insertions of the Oxford comma brought clarity, relief, and stability to sentences. The Comma Butterflies cowered and twitched, sensing rebellion.

With each corrected sign, pedants took heart. It would be a long and vicious struggle but, with Sharpies at the ready, victory would come; Comma Butterflies would eventually take flight and flee, their over-wheening ambitions crushed. Sensing utter defeat, the profusion of unholy and unnecessary apostrophes would follow, heads hung low. The adverbs dared to raise their heads and look to a time when they would be welcome; long-lost friends come home. All would be well, and all restored to order.

*I suspect that I don't want to know how much grammar I've broken in the writing of this practice piece.

No comments: