September 26, 2006

Commas biomedical, theological and poetical

From the midwest, Jonathan Lundell offers a new take on comma/period semiotics:

I'm in Minneapolis today visiting family, and just saw a billboard promoting the cardiac care department of a local hospital:

    heart attack.  or  heart attack,

From the middle of the 17th century, Samuel Sheppard's Epigram 31, "Disorder the fore-runner of Ruine" [from Epigrams theological, philosophical, and romantick (1651)] attributes periods as well as commas to the divine plan, though not in a way that will provide any comfort to those concerned about the situation in Iraq:

Both bodies Politick, and Naturall,
By this ill-shaped enemy doe fall:
Christendomes whip, who now doth soare so high,
By this in her own ruine low shall lie,
Factions those Comma's are, ordain'd by God,
When he'l bring Kingdomes to their period.

And in Aram Saroyan's 1998 "How to be an American poet", commas set off brain-storms:

Moreover, you have a select group who see the comma
As the way in, and out, of all poetic reality. Such
Poems, hunched with the determination to forge an
Electric pattern through plain talk, sometimes de-
Light the mind into déjà-vus, or cause electric storms
In the living rooms of the brain. The heart's telephone
Goes on ringing though, and there is no one to answer
The call. Not the baby nor the kids nor the Mommy
Nor the Daddy nor the neighbors nor the whole town
In the full moon of Grandfather Night. But the next
Morning the birds begin on time, and this is what we
Must remember, what we must hold on to in the terrible
Disorder of our century, the madnesses and absolutes---
Those birds are simple. And being simple, they are
Naturally excellent poets.

Posted by Mark Liberman at September 26, 2006 11:54 PM