Thursday, December 10, 2015

Shouldn't 2016 be 2,016? Thoughts on commas

I wonder if back in the year 999 AD there were hysterical arguments about whether or not the then-modern world was going to collapse because they were adding another digit to the year.
Remember, there was a similar ruckus in 1999 when we were warned our computers were going to haywire because they weren’t programmed to handle the preceding 2.
It was the Y2K bug, that year’s fashionable apocalypse. 
Utility grids were going to shut down, planes were going to fall from the skies, the Browns were going to win the Super Bowl — utter chaos.
You could almost expect that kind of haywire because if I’m not mistaken computers were in 1999 actually wired with hay.
I wonder if in 999 they were debating about whether the next year should be written 1000 or 1,000.
I’m thinking this is the year I begin to either boldly insert commas in the year or stop using commas all together. Because it should be one or the other.
Can anyone explain why 2015 isn’t 2,015? I understand conserving things like water, but conserving commas?
Does it all go back to year 999?
Maybe commas back then were considered evil. Maybe if they caught you using a comma they’d burn you at the stake.
Or maybe they’d just burn you at the stake because it was the Dark Ages and they welcomed even unholy illumination.
In that dim context you could say witch burning was a bright idea.
Unlike the fairly recent phenomenon of exclamation points, commas were around back then.
I’ve read punctuation came about after early Christians like St. Augustine became aghast at the thought holy texts could be misinterpreted and used for evil.
And let’s all thank God and commas that’s never happened!
Clearly, St. Augustine was worried about a variation of the old, “Let’s eat, Grandma!” versus “Let’s eat Grandma!” dietary eventuality.
I mention this realizing become glaringly unskilled at my use of commas. I’m profligate. I use commas, in fact, so often, in sentences, when, really, there’s no need.
That last line contains is evidence clear grammatical recklessness for including so many sentence-sinking commas.
I guess that makes me a commakaze.
Then I’m sure there are those who’d charge I believe in the dogmatic, perhaps ultra-liberal application, or use, of often needless, or, at least questionable, and, excessive, punctuation.
To these people I’m a commanist.
I admire the writing of those who rarely bother with commas. Clutter-free sentences just seem to shimmer. Reading Hemingway is like that.
Really, I’m surprised by now there’s not a writing app that let’s us compose simple sentences and then automatically decides just how much pesky punctuation ought to be included. Yoko Ono could market it on behalf of the John Lennon estate.
“Instant Comma!”
I do think we should engage in a serious discussion about whether or not we should begin punctuating the written year the way it logically ought to be.
So I intend to organize a meeting among interested grammarians to help sort it all out: should it be 2016 or 2,016?
We’ll work it out.
Of course, it’ll be open to the public. That means you and anyone you want to bring.
Comma one, comma all.

Related . . .


Ben said...

However this convention came about, it's useful and should be kept. Because years are the only commonly-used four-digit numbers that don't use commas, we can tell at a glance that a given number does, in fact, refer to a year and not something else.

"In 2010, we began selling coconuts in 2,010 stores."

Without this convention, we'd have to write that sentence as, "In the year 2010, we began selling coconuts in 2,010 stores."

Unless we want to start adding the ugly phrase "The year" all the time, we best leave things as they are.

Since when has grammar ever been about logic, anyway? If it was, we would have gotten rid of useless letters like "c" and "X" a long time ago.

Ben said...
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Chris Rodell said...

Excellent point, Ben. I never thought of it that way. Clarity! But I'm fine with keeping the X and C. I appreciate you taking the time to read and respond. Have a great week!