Thursday, January 9, 2014

U.S. punctuation airlift delivers billions of commas to UK

Commas arrive on British shores on Thursday afternoon. (Department of Defense)
SUFFOLK, ENGLAND – Despite record grammatical deficits in the United States, today the American military airlifted billions of relief commas to the shores of the United Kingdom, after becoming aware that decades of British schoolchildren have grown up with insufficient commas, at both home and at school. "Certainly, we were shocked when we realized that the British had been trying to write with roughly 50% of the American levels of commas—since at least the days of Graham Greene, if not earlier," said John Newell, Jr., White House proofreader, during an interview by telephone from Lakenheath Air Base in Suffolk, England. "While investigations into the cause of the comma shortage are ongoing, it appears that the problem has persisted since the days when the Nazis bombarded the Isles with subordinate clauses. Unfortunately, the British punctuation infrastructure never fully recovered."

British authorities, however, were first baffled by the airlift, then insulted—insisting that there was absolutely no need for supplementary punctuation of any kind from outside Britain, despite ongoing austerity measures under the Cameron government. 'Our commas are perfectly safe and more than adequate to meet our basic grammatical needs no matter what the Obama administration thinks', replied Rosie Carver-Eastlake, deputy minister for language education and assistant editor for the Oxford English Dictionary, from her office in single inverted commas. 'You don't see us shipping boatloads of letters U to the Americans. The current measures are at best unamusing and at worst hypocritical, derisive and wasteful'.

Newell protests that no disrespect whatsoever was intended. "I just feel bad for all those generations of British adults who never have punctuated correctly, and never will," he explained. "The least we can do is help." Newell alluded to the unfortunate story of the twin boys in Wolvercote who were arrested and convicted of homicide and cannibalism last year, due to misunderstanding the injunction, "Let's eat Grandpa!" "All I'm saying is that a little more punctuation could have saved lives," he added.

Carver-Eastlake, not to be outdone, insists that overpunctuation presents the greater danger to the British by far. 'As we can see from Lynne Truss's reportage of the incident with the panda in the bar too many commas kill just as often as too few. I'd rather add a few red curls on a page than tear through the thing with great bloody Xs'.

Industry analysts suggest that the comma airlift might be part of an attempt to correct a trade imbalance between the two nations, after Twitter's IPO forced Americans to deplete their reserve of pound signs and resort to importing hashtags—a product not widely produced within the U.S. Newell denied these allegations, saying that American punctuation remains the dominant player on the world market. "It's just sad that a nation that used to punctuate so cleanly—far more cleanly than we do, in fact—now wallows in unclear syntax every day. I mean, this is the nation that once gave the world the novels of Jane Austen, the writings of John Stuart Mill, and named the Oxford comma. Punctuation standards must be lifted, for the good of the British people." Newell further noted that the problem is apparently widespread in most countries of the former British Empire; while American grammatical resources are currently strained, he is optimistic that comma aid can soon be spread to other Commonwealth nations—by sea, air, and even land: "There is a copy-editing crisis just across our northern border, which we cannot afford to ignore."

For her part, Carver-Eastlake fired back that Newell is not the judge of what is good for the British people. 'We will be rescinding American candidacy for the Booker Prize immediately and will have to review our hashtag export policy. And for God's sake remove that blasted comma from its place before my name in the sentence preceding this quote'. 

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