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A Pain in the Colon Article by: Earl Nightingale

The Mental Health Society has reported that over 43% of people who have nervous breakdowns come from affluent families. Undoubtedly then, the other 57% come from offices. It is not the clamor, it’s the grammar. We’re not permitted to dangle participles or solder split infinitives. Prepositions are to be pushed into the thick, never to the rear of things. When we play mating games, it’s against the rules to match a singular subject with a plural verb. It’s a mortal sin to separate the subject from the predicate by a comma. They may never get together again. And the person who doesn’t know a plural possessive is a person who doesn’t know where the “s” belongs.

If you cannot figure out when to use a semicolon or colon, use a period. The semicolon is half the man the period is and twice the man the colon is. It is used in place of two short sentences with the same related thought. The semicolon can stop something, but it cannot maintain the stoppage. The colon is the stop, look, and listen sign that tells you to stop because there’s something up ahead such as listed information. The benefit of using the colon is 1), to save time, 2), to save space, and 3) to delineate the facts.

The comma is the sex symbol of the punctuating world. It is the emotion of the written sentence, the appealing little curve that people find so hard to resist. We get this irresistible urge to pick it up at the drop of a voice, at a lull in the conversation, and at a change of pace. It lies there so seductively waiting for its chance to break up phrases, come between words, and give expression to thoughts. Words such as therefore, nevertheless, and however gain strength from the comma. It’s sometimes perceived, always follows them faithfully, and without the comma, these words would pale in insignificance. And no matter how much we misuse it, it’s always there tempting us. The period is the end of a sentence, but never, never let the sentence end with a preposition. This is unforgivable. Something up with which employers will positively not put.

With all its humor and irony, this is an interesting little short course on punctuation for the millions who manage to get through school without quite figuring it out. Incidentally, I was just kidding about the dangling participle and the old myth about ending a sentence with a preposition. That went out with the one-room schoolhouse.


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"First say to yourself what you would be: and then do what you have to do."

- Epictitus

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