The Third Degree of Taciturn Tim


“We’re going to have to get him to talk and give us details,” Grammar Smith said.

“I dunno,” Dis Connect  replied. “It’s hard to get Tim to say more than just a simple sentence, Gram.”

Smith let Dis’s abbreviation of her name go as the pair gazed through the two-way mirror. She was concentrating on how to get the information she needed out of Taciturn Tim. She knew it was going to be tough. He wasn’t one to add description to his sentences.

As she entered the room and sat down, Smith said, “Tim, we really appreciate you coming in to help us. Can you tell me what happened?”

“She went,” Tim replied with just a subject and verb.

“That’s great, Tim, but can you give me a little more information? Who went?”

“The woman went.”

“I gathered it was a woman from your pronoun. Can you describe the woman?”

“The attractive woman went.”

Smith sighed. “Can you describe what she was wearing?”

“The attractive woman in the red dress and black pumps went.”

“Fantastic! Now we’re really getting somewhere,” Smith said although internally she wanted to shake more than a noun, a verb, a preposition, and a couple of adjectives out of Taciturn Tim.

Smiling in encouragement, she asked, “Can you give me an idea of where the woman went?”

“The attractive woman in the red dress and black pumps went into the building.”

Smith found her hand reaching toward her hip and was grateful that policy prohibited officers from wearing their guns in interrogation rooms.

“Oh, Tim,” she said through clenched teeth, “you’re doing so well. Do you know the address?”

“The attractive woman in the red dress and black pumps went into the building at the corner of Main and Elm.”

“We’re so grateful you came in to help us out,” Smith said as sweetly as she could muster and quickly gathered her notes. “Someone will be with you shortly to take your official statement.”

Good luck with that! she thought as she escaped the room.

“You’ve got the information,” she told her partner. “Go investigate.”

“Great job, Gram,” Dis said.

That was it. Smith’s last nerve snapped. She grabbed the front of Dis’s shirt and violently shoved him into the wall.

“I am not one of your elderly relatives!” she said quietly, dangerously. “It’s either ‘Grammar’ or ‘Smith.’ Got it?”

Dis nodded in astonishment (and fear).

“C’mon, Lieutenant Smith,” Sgt. Metaphor soothed as she gently tugged Smith away from her partner. “Let’s get some of that Cabernet you like.”


March 4 is National Grammar Day. John E. McIntyre of The Baltimore Sun is doing a delicious four-part series, “GRAMMARNOIR 8: Stet My Lovely,” on his blog You Don’t Say. I can’t wait to check out the next installment.


In Memoriam: Harper Lee, who gave us the wonderful To Kill a Mockingbird, died February 19. Here’s a quote from her any writer can appreciate:

“Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”


The Dicey Comma Splice

comma splice

Commas are slippery little buggers. Of all the punctuation marks, they’re the hardest to pin down. Oh, there are rules, but sometimes it is still hard to judge. One area where there should be no confusion, but people still can’t seem to get it right, is the comma splice.

I get looks of astonishment when I tell folks they can’t just stick two independent clauses together with nothing but an anemic comma. They don’t believe that a comma splice is a type of run-on sentence.

“Whaddaya mean I can’t do it? I do it all the time!”

“Yes, yes you do. Frequency doesn’t equal correctness, you know.”

The problem with comma splices is that everyone seems to think there’s nothing wrong with them. Electronic grammar checkers don’t catch them. There’s even a YouTube video that declares it’s a proper way to use a comma. (See, you can’t believe everything that’s on YouTube!)

An author that I like typically has about 50 percent of her novels as comma splices. I enjoy her content immensely, but I still have that editorial voice working away.

“What in the name of all the grammar gods is she thinking?” it will scream as I’m trying to follow an intricate plot device.

“Shut up! I’m trying to enjoy this.”

“Seriously, didn’t they have any kind of editor for those books? What is she trying to do?”

“I don’t know. I’m not the editor. Will you please be quiet?!”

Authors will break grammar rules sometimes for effect, but they do it consciously for a specific reason. We have to know the rule in order to know why we’re breaking it. I have a hard time justifying what poetic license writers are taking when most of their work is filled with comma splices, especially when they’re so easy to fix.

Too many people write comma splices, they don’t know what they’re doing.

Here we have two independent clauses with a poor, little comma trying to keep them together. How do we help it out?

One thing we can do is make it two sentences: Too many people write comma splices. They don’t know what they’re doing.

Or, if we don’t want the reader to completely stop, we can replace the comma with a heartier semicolon: Too many people write comma splices; they don’t know what they’re doing.

We can help out the comma with a coordinating conjunction, one of the FANBOYS: Too many people write comma splices, but they don’t know what they’re doing.

If it’s a certain flow we’re looking for, we can always opt for the popular dependent clause approach: Too many people write comma splices because they don’t know what they’re doing.

Get the picture?

“Look! There’s another freaking comma splice!”