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Misplaced comma causes forest fire


From Claudio Magris' Microcosms (p 100-111):
"Correct usage is a premise for moral clarity and honesty. Many a dirty trick and violent abuse of power arise when grammar and syntax are messed up and the subject is expressed in the accusative or the object in the nominative, mixing up the cards and exchanging roles between victim and perpetrator [consumer and manufacturer? – Penhire], altering the order of things and attributing events to causes or players not effectively responsible, abolishing distinctions and hierarchies in a beguiling heap of concepts and feelings, deforming the truth.

This, indeed, is why a single misplaced comma can result in disasters, can cause fires that destroy the woods on this Earth. But Professor Karolin’s story seems to say that by respecting language, or the truth, one reinforces life itself, one’s legs become that bit stronger and one is all the more capable of taking a stroll and enjoying the world, with that sensual vitality that is loose-limbed in proportion to how free it is of the tangles of deceit and self-deception. Who knows how many things, how many cherished pleasures and joys are owed, all unwittingly, to the schoolteachers’ red pencils?"
The drawing by David Levine can be purchased at http://www.nybooks.com/gallery/1591

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