Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The early history of the comma

From the Dec. 1 Message from the Rev. Martha N. Macgill, rector of Baltimore's Memorial Episcopal Church:

In Sunday's sermon, I took a page from English Grammar class---in particular, the comma.

It seems that the comma was first invented in 200 B.C. by Aristophanes of Bysantium, who was a librarian in Alexandria, Egypt. Aristophanes concocted a three-part system of dramatic notation advising actors when to breathe in preparation for their lines.

Indeed, the use of the comma down through the ages was to guide actors, chanters and readers through stretches of manuscript--indicating where to pause and accentuating matters of sense and sound.

The best quote about commas comes from Richard Mulcaster in 1582. Mulcaster wrote The First Part of the Elementarie, and in it he called the comma that "small crooked point, which in writing followeth some small branch of sentence, and in reading, warneth us to rest there and help our breath a little."

It seems to me that Advent is really the comma of the liturgical year. If we allow Advent to enter our hearts and minds this time of year, perhaps we can pause for a moment and catch our breath---in this one of the busiest seasons of the year.

Our readings in Advent encourage us to watch, to wait, to pause, to breathe.


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