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Donald Trump’s Dumb Tweet Proves the Importance of the Vocative Comma

Yes, Donnie, you're stupid.

Donald Trump talks secretively behind his hand, probably because he's saying something racist.

You know it’s true, my friends: Donald Trump is a very stupid, petty, barely literate bully. Sadly, he proved that again today with tweets aimed at intimidating his own party into further rigging his Impeachment trial. But he also proved something that’s very important to me as a writer and fan of grammar: the importance of the vocative comma.

The vocative comma is what I used in the first line of this piece. It comes before the name or title of the person you are addressing in a sentence. If you don’t use it, the addressee becomes the object of the sentence, and that’s confusing. There’s a difference, as Hamilton taught us, between “My dear Angelica” and “my dear, Angelica.”

The vocative comma doesn’t get the same sort of press and praise as its cousin, the Oxford comma, and that’s a shame because when it’s missing, as it is here, it entirely changes the meaning of a sentence. Not that Trump makes much sense most of the time, but here when he forgets the comma before “Republicans,” it seems like he is urging someone to remember republicans, not addressing republicans.

He should have written, “Remember, Republicans.” But he’s an idiot so he didn’t. This flub had the phrases “Remember Republicans” and “Remember America” trending on Twitter and without vocative commas, this sounds like people are just musing on long lost relics of history. “Remember Republicans? What a bunch of spineless jerks.” Or: “Remember America? Yeah … me neither. It had a good run though.”

People forget vocative commas all the time, and it’s an error that can undercut all sorts of statements. Even memes! The most popular takedown of an older person from generation Z lately is “Okay boomer” and its prevalence is annoying not just because it’s usually aimed at people who aren’t boomers – and yes,  I sound like an old woman yelling at the kids to get off her lawn when I say this – but also because with the missing comma, it’s meaningless.

When you say “okay boomer” instead of “okay, boomer” you’re not dismissing an old fart, you’re just saying a boomer is … okay?

So please, don’t be like Donald Trump, dear readers. Learn the vocative comma, love it, honor it. Use it.

(image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.