GRAMMATIK BRIEFING
Commatose

Aug. 20 - Today was once the most anticipated day of my life. This date is circled or starred or underlined in every print calendar I own. Today was Molli's original due date and she'll be seven weeks old tomorrow.

Due.
Due.

For the rest of my life I'm going to struggle to understand how old she is. She was due August 20, was born July 3, and we've been told to calculate her development as if she'd been born on August 6. So depending on which method of chronological assessment I use, Molli is either seven weeks old, two weeks old, or brand spanking new.

At least we're finally beyond a full-term pregnancy. It's like moving from B.C. to A.D.

* * *

I haven't mentioned Studieskolen in a long time, but I've been keeping up with my Danish studies throughout this whole strange summer. I've reached a certain level of garbled, childish proficiency in my spoken use of the language. We're spending less time on vocabulary and basic sentence structure and more on the complexities of grammar and speaking like an actual adult.

Today we got to talking about commas—Danish commas, which are, I suppose, technically kommaer. It was time to face the discomfiting, bizarro world of Danish commas head on.

Commas are never easy, especially for morons like myself who write more from the ear than the grammar book. For example, consider the preceding sentence. Should a comma have followed "myself" to precede "who write more..."? That depends: is it a relative clause, an appositive, a gentive wart clause, or what? Do you know? Do you care?

Not many people, as a percentage of the general population, do know. Fewer care. In our native languages, commas don't usually pose a problem unless we're writing sentences like, "Would you like to eat, Sue?" Try removing that comma to appreciate its significance.

From what I remembered of French and Latin, the use of commas in those languages didn't differ too much from that in our own. I therefore never associated foreign languages with foreign commas. The more I've been reading and writing Danish, however, the more sinister its commas have become. They're like speed bumps when I'm reading Danish, popping up all over and slowing me down. When writing Danish, I'm so bad at knowing when to use them that I end up scattering them around my own compositions like jimmies on an ice-cream.

Imagine, what my poor teachers, must endure, as they read, my little essays.

It really is bewildering. The following sentence, for example, would be punctuated correctly if it were in Danish:

He says, that he doesn't know, how he got home.

That's an actual example from a Danish grammar book. But it's an old edition, published before the introduction of the New Comma—which has been about as successful as the New Coke.

The New Comma law was introduced in 1996. It superceded and simplified the ancien regime of the Old Comma law. The New Comma law stated that you didn't always have to use a comma where you used to have to use a comma. Suddenly it was acceptable to write, "He says he doesn't know how he got home."

But the New Comma law hasn't worked out so well:

The Danish Language Council, the body that has the final word on questions about the Danish language, has introduced a little green sticker and an electronic version that states, 'New comma used in this text.'

Erik Hansen from DS says the sticker can come in handy, for instance, when applying for a job. It will tell the reader that the writer really does know how to use a comma, or rather that the reader hasn't omitted commas used in the traditional comma system.

The comma is just one of the many fronts on which I'm besieged by Danish signs and symbols. Worst of all is the Danish "minus sign," which is exactly the same symbol as the old-fashioned American "divided by" sign: a horizontal line with a dot above it and a dot below it (that is, ). I'm not complaining... but it is difficult to adjust to a country where 102=8.

* * *

(Still with me? Here's a fairly comprehensive guide to the Danish comma, in Danish, in PDF form. It appears to be somebody's thesis. I can't vouch for it's authenticity, but it looks accurate.)

New World Record!

The Olympics are going full steam and Denmark has set a new world record. The record was established on Tuesday:

A lightning strike has killed 31 cows sheltering under a tree in Jutland in rural southwest Denmark setting a gruesome world record.

"When I went out to the barn to milk the remaining cows the tears came," said farmer Kurt Nielsen on Thursday. "It is a really terrible thing."

The Danish insurers association said it was the largest number of reported deaths of farm animals from a single bolt of lightning.

The Danish news agency Ritzau quoted the Guinness World Records in London as saying the toll was highest number of farm animals in such an incident.

The incident took place in a rural area near the Danish city of Assing.

That's right. Assing.

* * *

If you just can't get enough of your favorite Romanian Voivode of the sixteenth century, Troniu has a photo of an authentic Romanian statue of Michael the Brave right here.

* * *

Another Danish factoid: it was on this date (August 20) in 1741 that the Danish explorer Vitus Bering discovered Alaska.

Weekend Briefs

Soviet career man Leon Trotsky wisely used some of the vacation time he'd accumulated to head down to Mexico and think through his options in the summer of 1940. On August 20, in Mexico City, he met with one of Stalin's human resources representatives, who suggested Trotsky take an early retirement. The suggestion was accompanied by several persuasive blows to the head with an axe, which seriously impeded Trotsky's growth potential. Sadly, he died before he could sue for damages.

On August 22, 1485, at the Battle of Bosworth, England's King Richard III was terminated for having made a fiscally irresponsible bid on a horse.

The 20th is St. Stephen's Day in Hungary.

On August 20, 1991, the Estonian parliament declared independence from the Soviet Union. The next day, Latvia declared its independence from the Soviet Union and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev declared he was back in full control after a 60-hour coup by old-school Communists finally crumbled. Full control of what?

On August 20, 1667, John Milton published Paradise Lost, which can also be found in my own first book, still available all over the place.

On August 21, 1911, Leonardo da Vinci's painting of the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in Paris. It was stolen by an Italian waiter, Vicenzo Perruggia. It was recovered in 1913.

On August 22, 1642, the Civil War in England began between the Cavaliers and the Roundheads.

On August 22, 1864, the Geneva Convention for the protection of the wounded during times of active warfare was signed, leading to the formation of the Red Cross.

Dorothy Parker was born on August 22, 1893. You can hear her readining one of her own poems here.

Here's another:

Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

Dorothy Parker attempted suicide four times herself before succumbing to a heart attack in 1967.

Enjoy the weekend!

2004, The Moron's Almanac™

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