Commas: fascinating facts (and a Stop Press)

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.

By Marian Dougan

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

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