August 16, 2006

Omit needless commas

In a recent Wired interview, Bart Kosko explains why he's given up commas:

Q: I noticed there aren’t any commas in your book. Is this your way of cutting back on punctuation noise?
A: Commas are a kind of channel noise. You’re not getting to the verb fast enough. Why make us wait? The comma is on its way out. Use small words. The perfect illustration is a swear phrase: Go to hell! Screw you!

Hell, why not leave out the spaces, too, andgettothoseverbsevenfaster? Kosko is plugging his new book Noise, and I guess he's newly converted to commalessness, since his previous book, Fuzzy Thinking, was full of them, nineteen on the first page alone.

This calls to mind Michel Thaler and his 2004 verbless novel Le Train de Nulle Part ("The Nowhere Train"), dedicated "à tous les partisans de la décolonisation de l'écrit et de la mise à mort ... du verbe" ("to all the partisans of decolonization of writing and of putting the verb to death"). And Gertrude Stein was all over the punctuation issue 70 years ago: "when I first began writing I was completely possessed by the necessity that writing should go on and on and if writing should go on what had colons and commas to do with it". Though Kosko doesn't want writing to go on and on, apparently, he wants it to get quickly to the verb and stop. Anyhow, the California Digerati seem to be taking on the rationally irrational quirks of 20th-century French intellectuals, without even following Stein from California to Paris. [Hat tip to Phil Resnik, who was too lazy to blog it himself]

Posted by Mark Liberman at August 16, 2006 11:06 AM