Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Commas, Part 5

Commas, Part 1
Commas, Part 2
Commas, Part 3
Commas, Part 4

[NB: I've written about vocative commas before, but I'll be reviewing them here.]

In this section, we'll be talking about how you use vocative commas.

The term "vocative" comes from the Latin vocare, to call. A vocative comma, then, is a comma that is used in situations where people call or address other people. These days, the Brits in particular are loath to use vocative commas, so I suspect that, little by little, the usage rules I'm explaining here are in the process of eroding. And let's face it: Yanks are using vocatives less and less, too. Like it or not, language is always changing. (But that's not an excuse to be a shitty writer.) For the time being, though, the following are incorrect:

· Fuck you Kylo.
· Yes Herr Dingleherr.
· More peanut butter in your enema Johnny?
· Hortense please lower your skirt in front of Father Maxwell.

Done correctly, the above expressions should read:

· Fuck you, Kylo.
· Yes, Herr Dingleherr.
· More peanut butter in your enema, Johnny?
· Hortense, please lower your skirt in front of Father Maxwell.

I frequently get emails that start with "Hey Kevin." Makes me wanna pull my fucking hair out. What is so goddamn hard about tucking a comma into its proper place, eh? Sigh... the collective inertia of this much mindlessness is what drives the evolution of language, alas. When stupidity reaches a critical mass, the language changes, and often for the worse. True: that's more of an aesthetic judgment than anything else. But this is my blog, and I'm entitled to my opinions.

Anyway, as you see above, in the second group of four sentences, the vocative comma either immediately precedes or immediately follows the name of the person/entity being addressed. And that's how vocative commas work. Simple as that.

Insert vocative commas where needed.

1. Ted is that your scrotum in the Instagram pic?
2. Ted is that dickhead you met at the party last night.
3. Don't wander too far into the Vagina Forest Eleven.
        (NB: Eleven is a girl in "Stranger Things.")
4. Can't say that I envy you Swollen Cat.
5. Yondu why you so blue?
6. Can't say that I envy your swollen cat.

1. comma after "Ted"
2. no comma needed
3. comma before Eleven
4. comma after "you"
5. comma after "Yondu"
6. no comma needed


Charles said...

Hey Kevin. That was a great post! We appreciate all you do to edumacate us about the commas, after all they can be very tricky! I know that I always have problems, when trying to figure out how to use them commas. I mean I've tried to get them straight but they keep giving me all sorts of problems. But one of the things I love about your website, is the awesome grammatical information you provide.

Thanks again and Happy, New Year!

Kevin Kim said...

Bien joué.

John Mac said...

Tell us how you REALLY feel, Kevin!

Actually, I create fewer offenses with vocative commas than I do with other comma usages. I even aced your test! I do admit though that I went back and randomly looked at some of the emails I've sent you recently. I was happy that for the most part, I did use a comma between the salutation and name.

Still, it is more visually appealing to write "Hey Kevin, what's up" than "Hey, Kevin, what's up". Or are they both right? If not, is there no place for aesthetics in punctuation?

Kevin Kim said...


I'd say the best way to write that utterance is:

"Hey, Kevin. What's up?"

"What's up?" is its own separate sentence, after all, so connecting it with a comma is ungrammatical (see Parts 1 and 2 of this series). That ungrammaticality is what keeps me from agreeing with you about how "visually appealing" your suggested locution is.

John from Daejeon said...

I will never look at and, but, & or, or the life cycle of a bill the same way again as the voice of a man who was a big part of my childhood has been silenced. Luckily for those of us touched by it, we have youtube to relish it whenever we need a dose of comfort as do those like Clint Eastwood who relished his other musical talent.

Kevin Kim said...

"I was happy that for the most part, I did use a comma between the salutation and name."

I just did a search on the phrase "Hey Kevin" in my Gmail, and it seems to me that most of your salutations lack commas, good sir!

John Mac said...

Damn it. I hate when that happens. I stand corrected. Hey, Kev. I resolve to do better in the future.

Kevin Kim said...

May your 2020 be a time of well-placed commas, then!