What’s displeasing Dear Megan? Plenty. But let’s start with comma splices and clichés.
I really like your column. You seem like a smart girl. I friend requested you on Facebook, but you haven’t accepted yet. You must be busy as a beaver. That’s OK. I don’t have a question or anything, I just wanted to say hi.
Guys, my first piece of fan mail! That’s exciting. It’s also somewhat problematic, because it contains a comma splice. I believe that’s called irony.
Hello to you, Louie from Queens. Seeing as there’s no other mail to answer this week (HINT HINT, people), I’m taking my cue from your letter and addressing the good ’ole comma splice. I get plenty of these across my desk, even from professional writers.
Comma Splices: What Gives?
Comma splice: The use of a comma to join two independent clauses.
For example: Stay off my Facebook, you sound like a weirdo.
You can fix a comma splice in one of three ways:
- Separate the two independent clauses with one of the seven coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so): Stay off my Facebook, for you sound like a weirdo.
- Separate the two with a semicolon, dash or colon: Stay off my Facebook; you sound like a weirdo.
- Make them into two separate sentences: Stay off my Facebook. You sound like a weirdo.
This is the part of the post where someone hurls the cry, “But Megan, is there no exception?” There are two exceptions, and thank you for asking.
#1: According to Strunk & White, splices are sometimes acceptable when the clauses are short and similar in form, such as:
I came, I saw, I conquered.
- Julius Caesar
#2: In cases where the writer is being appropriately poetic, he or she may use a comma splice for effect. For example:
His word is a rock that strikes the ruthless, his sentences bring death to the wicked.
- Isaiah 11:4, Jerusalem Bible
Helpful note: Famous people can get away with using a poetic comma splice; you, most likely, cannot. It comes off as weak or even worse, ignorant. So unless you are a seasoned writer, Caesar or God, you probably shouldn’t attempt it.
And While I’m at It … Clichés Are Bad, Too
My admirer from Queens committed another writing faux pas: He wrote, “You must be busy as a beaver.” I am, Louie—busy hating clichés. #ohsnap
Clichés are trite. They’re overused. And they’re lazy, boring writing. Writers, don’t use cliches. Find your own words to describe something, not someone else’s stale, timeworn words. If another writer includes “You can do A, B and C, if you just think outside the box!” I’m going to set a thesaurus on fire (that exclamation point is another issue altogether).
Some of the most common offenders:
- Avoid it like the plague
- Dead as a doornail
- If only walls could talk
- The pot calling the kettle black
- Thick as thieves
- But at the end of the day
- Plenty of fish in the sea
- Every dog has its day
- Like a kid in a candy store
And those are just the tip of the iceberg (hahaha did you see what I did there?).
But Megan, are there any exceptions? Nope. But you can take a cue from my colleague and use them to inspire creativity.
What common writing blunder or grammar error annoys you, gentle readers? Let us know in the comments. And as always, if you have a question for Dear Megan, fire away.