Here at Proofed, we work hard to ensure your writing is error free. And since we’re experienced professionals, most of the time we feel like we’ve seen it all. But now and then we come across something truly mysterious. Something that can’t be explained using the standard rules of punctuation.
And since it’s Halloween today, we thought we’d invite you to hear a tale of terror and typos in… The Proofreading Zone!
We met Mr. Robins on Thursday February 15th, 2018. It was a cloudy morning at Proofreading Towers. It promised to be like any other day. But the drizzle had turned to rain by lunchtime, with darker clouds on the horizon.
It was appropriate, perhaps, that Mr. Robins appeared, silhouetted in our door, the moment the first clap of thunder rang out. The panic in his voice was clear. It was hard to even understand what he was saying. All we could make out were the words “The sentences! They run on and on and on!!!”
He looked troubled. His hair was a mess. And he was clutching a memory stick in one hand, muttering to himself. After a few minutes, he collapsed.
The Problem Arises…
We tried to make Mr. Robins comfortable when he woke up, and after a strong coffee he was able to explain his situation.
It all began while putting the finishing touches on a business report. He noticed a comma splice on page one and corrected it. But when he went back to check the document before printing, it was back.
“Odd,” thought Mr. Robins, “I’d swear I corrected that already.”
But it only took a moment to replace the comma with a full stop again. And so he hit print, saved the file, and closed Microsoft Word.
But when the printer had churned out the report and Mr. Robins checked that all the pages were there, the first thing he saw was the comma splice.
It was back. The same comma. Mr. Robins was confused. Had he hit print before correcting it? He wasn’t sure anymore. He opened the document on his computer again and there it was: a comma splice on page one.
“I must be going mad,” he told himself, before deleting the comma splice again, carefully saving the document, and hitting print. We’re sure we don’t have to tell you what happened next.
You Can’t Escape Your Errors…
Mr. Robins stayed late at work that evening. His boss asked him if he was okay, as he had spent the entire afternoon marching back and forth between his computer and the office printer, looking more and more exasperated.
Not wanting to admit he was at war with a comma, though, he forced a smile and said that everything was fine. Just some computer issues.
But everything wasn’t fine. No matter what he did, the comma splice always returned. He tried copying the text to a new document. But it would just appear there, too. He tried working on different computers. But none of them were immune to this mysterious, impossible comma.
He even tried printing the document and using corrector fluid to white out the comma splice. But when he tried to add a period on top of the correction, the ink ran and formed a perfect comma.
This is when Mr. Robins broke. He screamed so loudly that he felt ashamed, even though everyone in the office had gone home hours ago.
After he had calmed down, he decided to save the document to a memory stick and do the same. He could work on it more before bed.
But even at home, the problem persisted. No matter what he did, he could not get rid of that comma splice. It was as if it were taunting him.
He tried looking online to no avail. Everyone treated him like he was making some kind of weird joke. Eventually, at 2am, he decided to go to bed.
That night, Mr. Robins dreamed of commas…
The Next Morning
After getting out of bed, Mr. Robins tried not to think about punctuation. Instead, he made breakfast and settled down to read the New York Times.
But right there, in the first article, he spotted a comma splice half way down the page. “Oh great,” he thought. “Another one.”
He decided to move on to the next article and turned the page. But right there at the top of the first column, he saw a comma splice in a headline. And another in some ad copy. And two more on the next page.
This was getting silly. But Mr. Robins didn’t have time to think about it. He was going to be late for work, so he put the paper down and left the house.
He saw four more comma splices on the way to the office: two on billboards and one on a sign held up by a homeless man at the side of the road.
And things didn’t improve after he got to work. There was a memo there on his desk, waiting for him. It said:
You left a lot of paper on your desk yesterday, can you make sure to tidy up next time?
Who had left it there? Did they know about the comma splice? Had they done it deliberately? He looked around to see if anyone was laughing, for any sign it might be a prank. But nobody was looking. Instead, he booted up his computer and checked his emails. The first header he saw said:
Big project coming up, clear your schedule
Another comma splice. When he opened the email, it was one long sentence, strung together with dozens of commas. And so was the next email. And the next one. What was happening?
Mr. Robins stood up and stepped back from his desk. Someone asked him if he was all right, but he didn’t reply. He just stared at his computer, and then picked up his memory stick and left without a word.
He needed to find someone who would understand. Someone who could fix this comma splice for good. And so he ran from his office, passing signs in shop windows, trying not to look but deeply aware of the comma splices all around him. He needed help. He needed the professionals.
While our proofreaders are all trained to handle regular punctuation errors, this was something different. We had to call in Lady Grammaticus.
Nobody knows where Lady Grammaticus came from. Or even her real name. But when punctuation gets spooky, you want her in your corner. Spelling errors and sentence fragments everywhere fear her for good reason. She even defeated the Cursed Colon of Connecticut.
Thankfully, Lady Grammaticus had heard of something like this before. She told us the story of Aldus Manutius, the Venetian scholar who invented the modern comma. She claimed that Manutius achieved this innovation in punctuation after making a deal with an unknown power from beyond this world. And the Eternal Comma Splice was the price he paid.
This terrible typo followed Manutius around for the rest of his life. You can even see it on his tombstone. But it didn’t end there. The comma splice spread, moving from mind to mind, from document to document, driving all who tried to correct it insane.
But the comma splice had not met Proofed’s team of professional editors before. Armed with knowledge of what we were up against, we loaded up Mr. Robins’ document, printed it out, and carefully added a dot above the comma to turn it into a semicolon while Lady Grammaticus chanted in Latin.
As the ceremony reached its climax, the semicolon began to glow.
It’s hard to say whether it was proofreading or, technically, an exorcism. But the semicolon was still there after the glow had faded, connecting two independent clauses just like a good semicolon should.
And when we looked at the computer screen again, the comma splice was gone, replaced by a semicolon. It took a while to convince Mr. Robins that everything was all right, but he seemed reassured after we bought a copy of the New York Times to show him that it was splice free.
Thus the tale of the haunted comma splice comes to its end. But who knows when evil punctuation will strike next? The world is full of demonic dashes and abhorrent apostrophes, just waiting for a chance to foul your writing by appearing in the wrong place. So, wherever you are and whatever you’re writing, make sure to proofread carefully! Happy Halloween!