A Comma in Coma by Irena Pasvinter

An Oxford comma recovers from a heart attack in Irena Pasvinter's amusing grammatical jaunt.

Allow me to introduce myself: Oxford comma. Some call me serial comma, but I prefer Oxford. I hate serial - it's a killers' word. Call me Oxford comma or Harvard comma (if you have a grudge against Oxford).

I bet you've always thought that commas are just speechless punctuation gadgets. Everybody is allowed to abuse commas - commas are not going to complain. This is a lie. I don't care if you believe me or not. I have to tell my story before it's too late.

It's true that I've never spoken out before. I'm not speechless but neither am I talkative. I used to chat only with the neighboring words and punctuation marks, but if I don't talk now, I may not get another chance. I'm not well. Not well at all.

To be more precise, I've spent two weeks in coma in a reanimation unit. Oxford comma in coma - isn't that funny? Not for me. Yesterday I came back to my senses. Today they moved me from reanimation. I spent half a day in a corridor of the cardiac diseases department till they found a place in one of the rooms. By the way, some unlucky marks and words still wait in the corridor - lots of heart diseases in the language land.

I myself am still too weak to write, but my room neighbor, an apostrophe, agreed to help me. Of course, he may be a bit partial to his kind, but I don't have much choice. Besides, we're related. I'm sure he'll add a fair share of commas as well and there may be even a couple of decent places for an Oxford comma like me.

My problem is that I'm not just a regular comma. While other commas get their place in life, I wait, wait again, and wait once more. While others are being used, I'm misused. The worst thing is to finally get a job only to discover that I'm stuck in the most embarrassing position: instead of resolving ambiguity, I'm creating it.

That's why I developed a heart problem - from despair. I waited for ages. I confess I even tried to disguise myself as a common comma. Yes, I went that far - I tried to betray my heritage. But it was for nothing. No matter how high I jumped and how loud I cried "Who needs a comma? I'm here, take me, take me!" I could fool nobody. They felt the Oxford origin in my guts.

One day they called me, at last. I was so excited. Elated. But not for long. Something did not feel right in my sentence. I looked around. It was a short sentence, a dedication: "To my dad, George Bernard Shaw, and God."

I was horrified. So what if George Bernard Shaw never had children - the stupid sentence was still painfully ambiguous, and I was the one to blame. This was completely opposite from my noble calling to resolve an uncertainty of meaning. I couldn't bear it. I twitched, cried out, and tried to get somebody's attention. All for nothing. I spent years caught in this shameful sentence. It took my cardiac arrest to get me out of it.

When I opened my eyes after the coma, I did not feel frightened. I felt relieved, happy even. I was so glad to be freed from my disgusting ambiguity. But then I started listening to what doctors and nurses were saying, and I wished I were still in coma.

I supposed that if they took me to the hospital from my cursed sentence, I was not going back. I hoped to receive a new place if I got better. How naive. They were going to put me back into my depressing spot because most of them felt that my bloody sentence needed me.

I heard the head of the cardiological department saying, "The poor sentence feels wrong without this Oxford comma."

I started twitching like crazy, and one of the interns ventured to say, "But it feels kind of wrong with this Oxford comma as well." The professor ignored him.

I asked my roommate's opinion about my chances. He was sure they would put me back into my sentence unless I did something drastic about it. And I believe him - he's an old veteran with lots of experience. He's been in this hospital tens of times, an old neurasthenic, always having fits of hysteria about being misused and working himself up into a heart attack. Well, I can't say more about his methods because he refuses to write.

And yet this apostrophe is so much luckier than I am. People care about him - he's even got an Apostrophe Protection Society! Nobody cares about me. I have no choice - I have to take care of myself on my own. I think I made my situation clear enough. The apostrophe says there are a couple of decent places for an Oxford comma in this story. I have to escape. I know it's immoral, against the rules and all, but I'm not going back to my sentence. No way. I will hide here. I hope the doctors will never find me. Please, don't tell them. Here they come. Have to hurry. Farewell.

P.S. It's me, apostrophe. These Oxford commas are really an arrogant and nosy bunch, but I could not refuse to help a mark in trouble. I kept this story under my pillow while I was in the hospital. I left today. The story is out in the big world now and this Oxford comma is safe and sound in it - she made sure to avoid her previous hated sentence. But I had to duplicate this sentence here. Somebody else is in the ambiguous predicament now. C'est la vie. Till the next heart attack.


  1. clever and informative

    Michael mccarthy

  2. That poor ol' Oxford comma is very ambiguous at times, but I'm one of those on the side for using it (uh-ummm, her). Cute, fun, and informative story.

  3. How refreshing to read a story that is gramatically correct down to the Oxford comma! This is delightful, full of humour and so well written.

  4. I used to think it was a butterfly. I liked it just as much when I discovered it wasn't, and it's a lot easier to spot!