Midi-rant 13: The comma calamity

“Good grief, when did this happen?”

“What?”

“This disaster.”

“What disaster?”

“What do you mean what disaster? That which wiped out over 80% of the world’s human population.”

“80% – are you sure? Well, there were the 1932 China floods, the 1556 Shaanxi earthquake, the 1970 Bhola cyclone, the …”

“No, no, no, while I was away.”

“You mean when you were trekking in the outback?”

“Yep. Perhaps I should have kept abreast, but I wanted to experience total isolation. That will teach me.”

“But nothing happened – only Gonzalo.”

“What happened to him?”

“No, no, it was a hurricane. But it killed only four people – nowhere near 80% of the world’s population.”

“Over 80%, actually.”

“Look, you are not making any sense.”

“Well, so why did they write this?”

“What?”

“This – look.”

They are amongst the 1.2 billion people around the world, living in what is sometimes called ‘energy poverty’, or ‘off-grid’.

“Oh this, ha, ha, ha!”

“What’s so funny? Before I left, there were over 7 billion people in the world, and now we are down to 1.2 billion – jeez!”

“No, no, no, it’s the comma!”

“Who isn’t making any sense now? How can a comma wipe out 6 billion people just like that?”

“No, no, no, they have no idea that you don’t use the comma with defining clauses. The participial clause beginning with ‘living’ defines the clause about people, which is why we mustn’t separate the two clauses with a comma.”

“We mustn’t?”

“Nope: they belong together. What they should have written is this.”

They are amongst the 1.2 billion people around the world living in what is sometimes called ‘energy poverty’ or ‘off-grid’.

“Hmm, but this publication is supposed to reach many readers – are you sure there was no calamity?”

“Positive.”

“In that case, they need a copy-editor.”

“You are not kidding!”

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