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Mar-22-2014 18:14printcomments

The Newest Depth of Depravity

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. - Margaret Mead

Comma
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(OLDENBURG, Germany) - There it goes, disappearing into extinction, that fine old mark of punctuation, the comma of direct address. Every time I read an email that starts "Hi William," I wince. Deep within me lurks a reactionary grammarian who insists on a comma separating the name of the person from what is being said to them. At first I tried to convince myself that in the salutation of an email the missing comma isn't important. After all, the meaning is clear.

But this crotchety old part of me replied, If it's written false there, the principle will be lost, the error will creep into the body of the text, a useful distinction of meaning will become blurred, and eventually our language will devolve into grunts and grimaces.

I told him he was being alarmist. This new usage doesn't have to spread from the salutation into the text. But then I got an email from my publisher, who wrote, "Thanks for the comment William." The tocsins of doom sounded in me. If this man whose profession is literacy has been infected, our culture has indeed sunk into depravity. I'm now convinced that this trend, if left unchecked, will end in barbarism. Strong measures are needed now to stop this decline. To that end, I've founded a new militant group, Crusty Old Pedants. COPs are proud grammatical nitpickers determined to resist the linguistic laxity now proliferating at all levels of society.

Our first goal is to save the comma of direct address from extinction, starting with email salutations. We write "Hi, Name -" (with a dash instead of a second comma) or just plain "Name," or we revert to that now-antique adjective of respect and affection and write "Dear Name,".

Once the comma of direct address is off the endangered list, we intend to restore the semicolon to its position of dignity and utility. Then we're going to reinstate the diagramming of sentences into the school curriculum. Without that graphic aid, many children never really learn the structural components of a sentence.

This may seem an idealistic dream, but as Margaret Mead wrote, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.

Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

If you'd like to become a COP and join our crusade, write to me at william.hathaway@ewetel.net. Just make sure you don't start your email with "Hi William."

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William T. Hathaway's first novel, A World of Hurt, won a Rinehart Foundation Award, and his new one, Wellsprings, concerns the environmental crisis: http://www.cosmicegg-books.com/books/wellsprings. He was a Fulbright professor of creative writing at universities in Germany, where he currently lives. A selection of his writing is available at www.peacewriter.org.

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William T. Hathaway is an adjunct professor of American studies at the University of Oldenburg in Germany. His latest book, RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War, resents the experiences of peace activists who have moved beyond demonstrations and petitions into direct action, defying the government's laws and impeding its ability to kill. Chapters are posted on a page of the publisher's website at http://media.trineday.com/radicalpeace. He is also the author of SUMMER SNOW, the story of an American warrior in Central Asia who falls in love with a Sufi Muslim and learns from her an alternative to the military mentality. Chapters are available at www.peacewriter.org

William T. Hathaway is author of the novels A World of Hurt, CD-Ring,, Summer Snow and a nonfiction book, Radical Peace: People Refusing War. He also wrote the screenplay for Socrates, an educational film starring Ed Asner that was broadcast on PBS.

Hathaway began his writing career as a newspaper reporter in San Francisco, then joined the Special Forces to research a book about war. Based on his experiences on a combat team in Vietnam, A World of Hurt won a Rinehart Foundation Award for its portrayal of the psychological roots of war.

After the war Hathaway became a peace activist. In his latest book, Radical Peace, he wrote, "Since then my books and articles have centered on this theme, as do many of my nonwriting activities. It's become my beat, as they say in the newspaper business." A selection of his writing is available at http://www.peacewriter.org. You can drop William an email at this address: william.hathaway@ewetel.net

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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.