Surely you jest you are likely thinking. How can a simple, little punctuation mark save a life? It is simple really.
Commas indicate a pause, or break in thought. In a direct address, a comma (or pause) makes it clear to whom you are speaking or writing. When that comma is missing, you can drastically alter the meaning of your words. Consider the following image:
Now you see how something as small and seemingly insignifcant as a comma can save a life. Unless you want your 90-year-old grandma cowering in the corner thinking you are about to boil, bake or broil her for the family dinner, remember to use the comma signifying a direct address.
For all practical purposes, this may seem like a fairly simple comma rule to remember and follow. Yet, it is a common error that can leave your readers questioning not only your grammatical prowess, but also your propensity for cannabalism. Below is a portion of an “About Me” section from a blogger’s site. Note the lack of the direct address comma.
“I’m a 24 years [sic] old blogger (that loves cooking ladies) [sic] and I like to laugh and joke around a little.” – Ronald L. Harris, Jr., The Revenue Herald blog
Mr. Harris likes cooking ladies? That is a scary thought if you are one of the unlucky ladies he sets in his sights. Unless of course, you consider what he really means—he loves cooking, ladies. The difference the comma makes is the difference between you thinking Mr. Harris is a sadistic serial killer who all women should avoid unless they want to end up on his dinner plate or thinking that Mr. Harris enjoys cooking, which he hopes appeals to all the lovely ladies he means to address. The use of [sic] signifies grammatical errors within the quote, not Mr. Harris state of mind – although if you take his words literally, “sick” might prove more fitting.
The moral of this post is that regardless of how insignificant a comma seems, the omission of one can take your words from something simple to something you never intended, as is shown with the direct address comma. With the proper use, you can avoid mishaps that leave your readers scared, frightened or running in the opposite direction to save their lives.