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The Hairy Woodpecker

Birding Business April 2011

The Quiet Comma

Ray David | Editor/Publisher

THE OXFORD COMMA, often referred to as the serial comma, is a greatly misunderstood tool of our language that, like a moment spent birding, can help relax, calm, and slow down the pace of everyday life.

I've used it six times in the opening sentence to give you, the reader, a brief moment to sidestep the frantic, can't-wait-a-minute pace of business. It's nothing more than a tiny, crooked little mark on the page with an obscure subliminal message, but it helps the writer say "RELAX for Pete's sake". The intent is that you should slow down, let the words you've just read sink in, then move on through the rest of the sentence. Most of us just don't have time for that anymore. No pauses allowed.  
In the journalist's world commas are a waste of time. A newspaper editor will eliminate most of them before they appear on a page. Itslowsdowndeliveryofthemessage. But I like to think that in the world of birds and butterflies time is considered a more precious commodity, and the proper use of punctuation gives us just that nano-second respite that so many others don't get. I mean, they really don't get it. They don't understand the value of time well spent, which means they also don't understand about half of what they've read.

When you read an average page of text without commas your brain feels rushed and a lot of the message passes you by. You took from it only what to you was the salient point, but what supports and clarifies that point is lost. And that's what happens when someone reads your ad or editorial if it's not put together with the reader in mind.

In this business we see it all the time; someone wants to let their customers know every last detail about their product or program when just a few simple bullet points will be far more effective. The essence of the message is delivered in a glance. A few dollars spent having an agency design your ad will make you look professional, and can return a great deal more than an ad no one reads.

This page is an example: if I was trying to sell you something I'd have lost you by this time. After one glance at the page, knowing it's a sales pitch, you'd decide it's too much work to read it all. In this case, of course, if you've read this far it's because you're not being sold anything and you're reading just out of interest. That's where text and punctuation get to do their job.  

Mine is to run this magazine; yours is to run the store; the agency's job is to make you and me look good doing it.

In this issue

All About Rio
In Praise of Porro Binoculars
Moving Water Attracts Birds and Customers
Groupon and Living Social
The Next Gift Thing


Publisher's Note
Industry News
New Products
book Reviews
Index of Advertisers