Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

I was unaware that George W. Bush referenced the phrase "Never place a period where God has placed a comma" with his assurance that the Iraq War was "only a comma." The church to which I belong, the United Church of Christ, which happens also to be Barack Obama's church, references the above phrase as part of its own outreach, using the motto "God is still speaking," always with a comma at the end. The UCC's promotional literature always respectfully attributes the "Never place a period..." phrase to Gracie Allen (born circa 1885, died 1964), the wise-cracking comedienne who married George Burns and who, unfortunately, has now been forgotten by many, probably in part because her husband outlived her by so many years.

We should also reflect that punctuation marks like the comma are a comparatively recent invention. Lynne Truss, in her witty book Eats, Shoots and Leaves (2003), has reminded us that the first punctuation was probably invented by Charlemagne's sage Alcuin. The refined system of differentiated punctuation marks that we still use today (with some alterations) was invented by Aldus Manutius the Elder (1450-1515). Truss summed up the consequences as follows: "Of course, if Hebrew or any of the other ancient languages had included punctuation (in the case of Hebrew, a few vowels might have been nice as well), 2,000 years of scriptural exegesis need never have occurred, and a lot of clever, dandruffy people could definitely have spent more time in the fresh air. But there was no punctuation in those ancient texts and that's all there is to it."

Eric Paul Jacobsen

Saint Paul, MN

Oct 31 2008 - 10:56am

Before commenting, please read our Community Guidelines.