Friday, October 18, 2019

New Yorker commas

Turning the pages of a January New Yorker, I noticed this tag at the end of a story: “Translated, from the Japanese, by Philip Gabriel.” Only The New Yorker, said I, would use commas there.

Garner’s Modern English Usage explains two ways of using commas:

The “close” style of punctuation results in fairly heavy uses of commas; the “open” style results in fairly light uses of commas. In the 20th century, the movement was very much toward the open style. The byword was, “When in doubt, leave it out.” Indeed, some writers and editors went too far in omitting commas that would aid clarity.
And indeed, some writers and editors go too far in including commas that do not aid clarity.

Here’s Mary Norris’s in-house defense of New Yorker commas: “In Defense of ‘Nutty’ Commas.” It predates the New Yorker possessive “Donald Trump, Jr.,’s.”

Related reading
All OCA punctuation posts (Pinboard)

comments: 2

Richard Abbott said...

Interestingly, perhaps, I have become more generous with my use of commas since working with Amazon Alexa development. Practical experience indicates that Alexa parses, and hence stresses, sentences better if there are more commas to indicate your authorial intent. Inevitably this greater use of commas tends to spill over into my ordinary writing.

There was a 19th century enthusiasm for defining language enhancements which would indicate to a reader exactly how the writer intended sentences to be delivered - in modern parlance metadata tags, if you like. This kind of foundered as it proved too difficult and/or complex to show, but see for a quick description of one part of it. Commas and their related markers such as semi-colons, dashes of several lengths, and so on are what we still use today.

Michael Leddy said...

So many developments on that page that I’ve never seen before. The blank blobs remind me of my first experience teaching writing (in a course not of my design), with students constructing sentences to fit increasingly complex patterns.