‘Enterprising’ commas


The Eye of Shatner (pic by ssoosay)

I CAME across a delicious “part of speech” the other day that’s too good not to share.

It’s the “Shatner comma”. I’ve heard of the Oxford comma, of course, but this one’s completely new to me.

I had a suspicion what it was all about, though. After all, the quirky, pause-acting style of a certain popular television actor is very distinctive – as if some inexperienced writer had scattered inappropriate commas like confetti throughout his lines.

Now – cleverly, I think – the online Urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com)
has adopted the term “Shatner comma” to define such awkward, misplaced
punctuation marks.

They are, says the definition, “oddly placed commas that don’t seem to serve any actual purpose in punctuation, but make it look like you should take odd pauses, as William Shatner does when delivering lines.”

He can get away with it, though – in fact, it’s such a Shatner trademark that it’s even been parodied on The Simpsons.

From the solidly dependable Captain Kirk, boldly going (another grammatical transgression that puts the purists in a froth) where no man had gone before, to Boston Legal’s cranky Denny Crane, covering up his slow sink into senility with corny jokes and outrageous stunts, his stilted delivery works.

When it’s written down that way, though, it’s enough to give me the mental hiccups.

On a not-entirely-unrelated note, I had a few more linguistic laughs the other day when East London attorney Mark Yazbek sent me some more of the wonderful malapropisms he collects – usually from real-life conversations:

“We can’t blanket everyone with the same brush, nor can we
tar them with the same feathers.”
From a television newsreader: “The chairman of the committee was
Judge Richard Gallstone (Goldstone).”
“There are no escape goats in the contract.”
Australia has had terrible “flush” floods.
“If you want to know what is going on, always look behind the grape vine.”
“He defecated from Cuba to America.”
“We did not have consexual sex.”
“I was shunted from Pontius to Pilate.”
“I got cold fingers and did not buy the farm.”
“My wife and I will jump off the bridge when we get to it.”
“There was an invasion of obnoxious weeds.”
“Please give me a ball pen figure.”

Mark likes to play with words, malapropisms, alliteration, etc, and I’m still hoping to see the end result of his lifelong wish to put his collection -“before I die”, he says – into some form of print.

Perhaps he can add the words of Springbok rugby player JP Petersen, who told a TV interviewer about his captain, John Smit: “He was here to inspirate me.” – Stevie Godson

(A version of this column was first published in the Daily Dispatch.)

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This entry was posted by stevieg on Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011 at 11:37 am and is filed under A Passion for Words, General . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1. Karin Lewis says:

    Wonderful! Here in North America, we are lucky to have Sarah Palin to further enrich the language. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1296178/English-living-language–Sarah-Shakespeare-Palin-determined-murder-it.html

    • stevieg says:

      I know! Don’t know whether to be pleased or not about that, do you? (But I must admit she’s given me quite a few chuckles…)

  2. I did enjoy this, thank you. I think Mark would also enjoy reading “The World According to Student Bloopers” compiled by Richard Lederer and available to view here: http://www.cse.unsw.edu.au/~norman/Jokes-file/StudentBloopers.htm I’ve had a copy of this for years and they still make me laugh. Enjoy!

    • stevieg says:

      A pleasure, Michelle. Glad you liked it. I scooted straight on over to “The World According to Student Bloopers” and it gave me quite a chuckle. Thanks for that. I’m definitely going to be passing this on to Mark.

  3. Erin Smith says:

    Very good post. If there were more writers like you I’d have more websites to go to when I do go online. LOL.

  4. Lakiesha says:

    That’s way more clever than I was expecting. Thnkas!

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