It was a happy coincidence this week to have a story that crossed over my professional and personal life. And it was one little, teensy, weensy punctuation mark that done it. The ever-useful, ever-complicated, ever-easy to use comma.
This comma was deserving of a bit of abuse in my opinion. I blame its presence on creating a fleeting moment of emotional anguish. Maybe those who created the text didn’t have an editor to question its justification to be there. Maybe the comma just ran onto the page at the last minute to escape eradication by the typesetter.
It all started with the budgie. A thread that has been flying through my other blogs; he’s obviously keen to make sure he’s involved in what I’m doing when in lockdown. He was happy enough, but still seemed more pale blue than bright blue in his feathers, I suspect from excessive preening.
After visiting the pet shop, I came back with anti-parasite treatment. Then on reading the instructions, I had the proverbial kittens.
I had to smother all his feathers? And on the back of his neck? No budgie likes being handled, never mind get goo ‘massaged’ into their skin at the base of all their feathers!
My palms started to sweat; my heart started to beat a little faster. I thought I’d bought a spray! I started to twitter away (not to the online bunch) about what my plan should be to my other half when he said ‘but you only have to do it at the back of his neck’. What?! The instructions were as follows:
‘Directions for use: Twist off the cap and apply entire contents of pipette to the base of the feathers, on the bird’s neck.’
I confess in my heighted emotional state, I should’ve read the instructions twice, but what on earth was that comma doing there between ‘feathers’ and ‘on’? Didn’t they know that it would be a stressed-out-home-schooling-trying-to-work-from-home-mum-with-a-sick-ish-pet who did not need to be traumatised by ambiguous editing?
If I had been the copy editor/proofreader it would have read: ‘Twist off the cap and apply entire contents of pipette to the base of the feathers on the back of the bird’s neck’. Clear. Precise. Less trauma all round for the budgie, the mum and the instructions.
Well, I didn’t have to hold him for as long as I’d imagined. And I only had to chase the wee bandit a few times round the floor.
Boy, he was not a happy lad after I’d finished. Must’ve felt like odourless sun cream that just sat on the surface like an oil slick with nowhere to go.
I can repeat the treatment, if necessary, in four weeks. Oh joy, can’t wait.
Have I recovered? Yes, but that comma is still bugging me. The dictionary definition of a comma: ‘The comma marks a short pause between elements in a sentence.’ One of its jobs is to separate main clauses from other elements such as subordinate clauses and relative clauses. I won’t bore anyone with semantics, but suffice to say I don’t think it was necessary to put a ‘pause’ in the sentence in the instructions.
The two clauses together made sense and didn’t need a comma to help them out. Unless it was for – dun dun dun – dramatic effect! Pausing to keep us in suspense in case it was on the base of the feathers at his nether regions, finishing as a suppository up the poor bird’s yin yang? I think not.
Anyway, the budgie got his sweet revenge. Yes, he was still talking to me, and was very affectionate as he kept rubbing his head on me to get the goo off. As if we weren’t having to wash our hands enough at the moment, but as the goo could be harmful to humans and other animals, better to be safe than sorry.
Now I’m on countdown as well as lockdown to see if the goo will work . . .