Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Bill Buckner and the sublime dash of Angell's

Most people, even most writers, would not sit still for a 41-minute lecture about punctuation. But I ate it up. It was a thrill to hear the real truth about how English punctuation works, what it does, what it can accomplish.

Punctuation creates pauses in a sentence. In rising order of the length of pause created, we have comma, colon, dash, parenthesis, semicolon, and period, each one suited to certain moments.

To dramatize the expressive power of the dash, Prof. Sainani, who grew up a Red Sox fan in Vermont, told a baseball story, quite a long one, involving the indelible memory of first baseman Bill Buckner's tragic between-the-legs fumble in the 1986 World Series. The punch line is that in the last play of the 2004 World Series, when the Boston pitcher caught a grounder and ordinarily would have fired the ball to first base, he remembered Buckner's fumble. So instead of pegging it, he ran closer to first until he could send an easy, guaranteed catchable underhand throw to the first baseman for the final out and the World Championship. Now here comes the dash, the two dashes: this is what New Yorker writer Roger Angell wrote about that moment:

Baseball is the only game that’s played every day, which is why its season often seems endless, right up to the inning and the out—the little toss over to first base—when, wow, it ends.

No comments: