Bumbo was sitting in his morning comma class, but he wasn’t paying much attention. He leaned over and whispered something to a fellow student.
The teacher saw him and asked, “Do you have something to share with the rest of us, Bumbo?”
“No, I was just making a little side comment,” answered Bumbo.
“Ah,” said the teacher, “then you must put it in commas.”
Explanation of the koan:
When Bumbo whispered to the other student, he was making an off-topic comment. When we do this in a sentence, it is called an interpolated aside, which is a form of parenthetical expression. For example, this sentence has an interpolated aside:
“The oil fields in Colorado, I have heard, have sufficient resources for over 300 years.”
The interpolated aside I have heard isn’t part of the main idea in the sentence. It provides the writer’s opinion or thought about the main idea.
As the Zen Comma teacher correctly instructed Bumbo, these interjected comments need to be separated from the rest of the sentence with commas. Here, Bumbo has learned Zen Comma Rule L: Separate interpolated asides with commas.
Need help with commas? Get Zen Comma, a guide to the 17 major uses and misuses of commas. Read more about Zen Comma.