The Correctionary: Comment

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Many have undoubtedly had the urge in class to reach over and throttle the person whose off topic and possibly far too personal comment has just made their blood boil with vitriolic disgust. It’s not unheard of. But, really there’s no need for violence. All they really need is to understand what a comment is actually all about.

Typically, “comment” is used when someone intends to express an opinion, and it is used to refer both to the actual expressing of the opinion and the opinion itself. So, a reporter looking for a story asks the President to comment on the war in Afghanistan. Or perhaps after a burgeoning poet posts some new verse on their blog, and their always-supportive friend posts “Your poem sucks,” in the comments section.

Either of these examples is accurate usage, but they hide the true nature of the word and the activity of commenting. It’s, in a way, a step beyond merely expressing any old opinion or idea.

Originally, as is so often the case, the word comes from Latin prefix cum- meaning “together, in combination” and word base meminisse, which means “to remember” (and is related to the word from which we get “mental” and “mind”), and after a bunch of ghastly grammatical manipulation offers up commentum, which meant something more like “invention” than “comment.”

The implication is that one skillfully brings thoughts together in order to offer up an interpretation of something. One devises a clever way of offering a perspective or explanation of something, and “invents” a new and useful interpretive thought. This is why a comment is always about something – it’s not just a stand alone thought, but is necessarily intertwined with the thing it’s supposed to be about or explaining.

It’s interesting to think about this in relation to certain words having the same Latin prefix as their origin – one of which is “community.” When making a comment, not only does it need to bring thoughts together, but it is always about something else, and it is always made to some other person or group of people.

Thus, commenting seems to be a necessarily communicative and community oriented activity. To comment means to become a member of the group of people who are concerned with the topic or issue (or poem) at hand. Further, it means that engaging in a dialogue with the members of that community, a dialogue whose purpose is to keep going, taking what’s good and combining with what’s already there.

Commenting is never just putting your two cents in only to demand no one else spend them – it’s putting your two cents into a giant and ever-expanding pot of metaphorical knowledge into which anyone concerned can dip their hand, grab a handful, and spend on more comments and more knowledge.

So, there’s never a need to strangle your classmates. Just explain to them a little about Latin and keep the discussion moving.