On Writing · The Good Life

Comma Saves Pasta

She’d dashed the text off between seeing patients. The invitation to her potluck dinner was a cryptic garble of mashed abbreviations. We love her and her parties, figured we’d arrive around 7 for a fun night with beloved friends.

At first, I was stumped by my assignment: pst sld. I read it out loud and then laughed. She wanted me to bring pasta salad.

Easy enough. I’m a confident and creative cook. I had a free afternoon to putter around in the kitchen to create something delicious and interesting. I also have a new bottle of fabulously dark blue nail polish that I am eager to try out.

Late last night, she sent an email confirming 6:45 dinner and her requests. My assignment: a pasta dish and a green salad.

For want of a comma(,) or an ampersand (&), I’d misunderstood. This isn’t rocket science or brain surgery, but still.

A merry solution came while I was hunting for a recipe for pasta salad: fusilli tossed with cheese and fresh tomatoes, topped with handfuls of mint and basil. I washed my favorite large salad bowl, called to confirm that this version of pasta and green salad would do. I set up my nail polish station on the kitchen island.

It’s going to be a great night.

From George Herbert*, a writer in the 17th century:

For want of a nail, the shoe is lost/For want of a shoe, the horse is lost/For want of a horse, the rider is lost.

From Louise Foerster, a writer in the 21st century:

For want of punctuation, a message is lost/For want of a message, the dinner is different from planned/For want of the planned dinner, we laugh at how much we need commas, to breathe deeply and say what we mean to say.

*George Herbert observed that living well is the best revenge. His writing was a valuable resource for Benjamin Franklin in writing his Poor Richard’s Almanac.


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