When I was around 12 or 13 years old, I used to go and sit on my mum's bed while she was watching TV, and we'd talk about stuff. We talked about things I'd recently come across, like an awesome book describing boolean logic, poetry that rhymed compared to poetry that doesn't, and that weird David Bowie film that was on that I didn't understand (she didn't either - have you ever *seen* The Man Who Fell to Earth?).
We talked a lot about language, and speech, and that sort of thing. I bought a book about grammar once, we had a two hour chat about tautology. I love my mum. (Dad too, but let's not make this comment too long.)
Commas came up more than once. I didn't realise it at the time, we were just chatting. Wasn't old enough to start classifying conversations. But, yeah, they were an interesting element of written language.
A few years later, we're talking on the phone. "I bought a book!" she says. "I think you might like it".
I'm going to have to quote this bit directly, without punctuation; you'll have to fill in that bit yourself (or not):
"It's called eats shoots and leaves"
If you haven't heard the joke before, "eats shoots and leaves" is the punchline to a joke that plays on words, specifically what happens if you leave a comma out of a sentence.
Here's the joke as I remember it:
"A panda walks into a pub and orders the daily special. He finishes his meal, walks towards the door, but before going out he turns around, pulls out a gun and shoots a nearby customer. The barman shouts at him, 'Hey! What the fuck! You shoot one of my customers and walk out without even paying, christ!' The panda turns around and says 'Yeah? So what? I'm a panda, look it up.'It's also a great book, if you like that kind of thing.
So the barman gets out his encylopedia and looks up panda bears. The definition reads: 'Pandas: a type of bear native to China. Distinctive because of its white and black colouring. Eats shoots and leaves.'"
The thing that struck me, though, is that my mum remembered talking to me about commas, sitting on her bed all that time ago, and picked up the conversation twenty years later, and it was like we'd never finished talking. It was nice.
So, thanks, commas. You're awesome for all sorts of reasons.