The Shatner Comma

As anyone who’s ever read my writing pre-revision (or even after 3-4 passes of my own) can attest: I have a serious problem with Shatner Commas.

Let me explain first what a Shatner Comma is, and second, why I have such a problem with them.

Shatner Comma (n): Improperly placed commas that serve no grammatical purpose and thwart the rules of proper punctuation. They instruct the reader to take unnatural and illogical pauses, much in the way William Shatner so famously delivered his lines in Star Trek (TOS).

Why do I have such a problem with them? Because I was instructed (as were most people) to put commas where I would naturally pause in speech. That’s right, I pause frequently and illogically in my regular everyday speech.  In my case it isn’t something I do to create a sense of drama. As best I can tell the problem traces back to my childhood stutter.

To be clear, my stutter wasn’t as horrible as in The King’s Speech, and I wasn’t endlessly teased for it (though I was dreadfully self-conscious about it).

I reminisced about it recently with my grandmother and she recalled that even at the age of 7 I worked endlessly to eliminate it. I’d sit playing on her living room floor reciting and repeating any sentence or word that I’d stuttered on until I had it silky smooth, at least so far as the stutters were concerned.

In their place came the pauses. To give my brain time to work around the hitch I think I subconsciously inserted a pause. That pause lingers to this day.

I spent many a Saturday morning on that same floor at my grandmother’s watching re-runs of Star Trek:TOS, so maybe a bit of Shatner’s delayed speech and odd timing crept in as well. We’ll never know.

With the help of my Critique Partners and a LOT of hard work I’m edging towards eliminating reducing the Shatner Comma from my writing, but I can make no guarantees. As for the pause in my speech? It lingers to this day though I’m working to lessen it now that I’m fully aware of it. And it wasn’t a cure-all for my stutter, which can still be found in diminished capacity any time I get overly excited about something.

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Filed under Grammar/Spelling, Learning, Real Life™, Revision, TV/Movies

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