Monday, July 23, 2007

Comma Cropper

See? I'm not the only one upset about commas. Newsweek's Robert J. Samuelson is, too. He doesn't seem to share my angst specifically about the serial comma, mind you. But still, in this week's column, "The Sad Fate of the Comma," he observes:
Commas are disparaged as literary clutter. They're axed in the name of stylistic "simplicity." Once, introductory prepositional phrases ("In 1776, Thomas Jefferson ... ") routinely took commas; once, compound sentences were strictly divided by commas; once, sentences that began with "once," "naturally," "surprisingly," "inevitably" and the like usually took a comma to set them apart.

No more. These and other usages have slowly become discretionary or unacceptable. Over the years, copy editors have stripped thousands of defenseless commas from my stories. I have saved every last one of them and piled them all on a secluded corner of my desk. They deserve better than they're getting. So here are some of my discarded commas, taking a long-overdue bow: ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,.

I'm not quitting quietly. By my count, this column contains 104 commas. Note to copy desk: leave them be.

Right on, Robert. Read the whole thing here.

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Blogger Maggie Rose said...

Holding a clear solidarity with your position on "the comma serial killer," I thought you might enjoy this joke that I recently ran across:

A panda walks into a restaurant. He sits down and orders some food. The waiter brings the panda his meal. After he eats, when the waiter brings him the check, the panda takes out a gun and shoots him.

As the panda is leaving, the owner of the restaurant asks him, "Why did you shoot my waiter?!" The panda replies as he walks out, "I'm a panda. Look it up in the dictionary."

The owner, now very confused, looks up panda in his dictionary: Panda--a marsupial that lives in the mountains of China, eats shoots and leaves.

lol. commas can make all the difference; let's be careful how we use 'em is my philosophy

4:39 AM  
Anonymous daz said...

I'm a comma lover, I confess.

And I'm with Martha, Lynne Truss, et al. on preserving the serial comma, fer sure.

But there is such a thing as comma-itis. I see this not infrequently in the New York Times, where some writers sprinkle their prose with commas the way my mother used to use Accent in her (otherwise superb) cooking.

[Cf. "I see this, not infrequently, in the New York Times, where some writers sprinkle their prose with commas, the way my mother used to use Accent, in her (otherwise superb) cooking."]

Unnecessary commas that clarify nothing for the reader really do serve as verbal clutter, and just make reading feel like wading through molasses.

The best policy is moderation in all things, including commas.

11:33 PM  

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