Commas: fascinating facts (and a Stop Press)

20Aug10

Comma butterfly

Fascinating comma fact 1

A comma is not just a punctuation mark, it’s also a type of butterfly, so-named because of the white comma-shaped marking on the underside of its wing (you can just about see it in the photo). UK Butterflies (which provides more detailed photos) describes the Comma as looking like a “tatty Small Tortoiseshell”. It may look pretty drab in the photo, but that’s deliberate:

When resting with wings closed this butterfly has excellent camouflage, the jagged outline of the wings giving the appearance of a withered leaf, making the butterfly inconspicuous when resting on a tree trunk or when hibernating.

Another “comma” butterfly is the Silver-spotted Skipper. It’s also known as the Hesperia comma, again for the markings on the underside of its wings.

Fascinating comma fact 2

The Italian word comma means “paragraph” (as in a sub-division of an article in a law). This reflects the origin of the word, as explained by the Online Etymology Dictionary:

a Latin word, nativized by 1590s, from L. comma “short phrase,” from Gk. komma “clause in a sentence,” lit. “piece which is cut off,” from koptein “to cut off,” from PIE base*(s)kep- “to cut, split” (see hatchet). Like colon (1) and period, a Greek rhetorical term for part of a sentence which has been transferred to the punctuation mark that identifies it.

The English “comma” is translated as virgola in Italian.

Not quite a comma fact, more a comma Stop Press

The Chicago Manual of Style has up-dated some of its rules, one of which concerns the comma:

Titles that end in question marks or exclamation points
The title of a work that ends in a question mark or exclamation point should now be followed by a comma if the grammar of the sentence would normally call for one or, in source citations or in an index, if a comma would normally follow the title.

More “Chicago now prefers” nuggets can be found at Significant Rule Changes in The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition.

More fascinating comma facts – and opinions – welcome. Share yours in the comments!

Photo of comma butterfly courtesy of Jaahur.



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