Culture Desk: In Defense of “Nutty” Commas : The New Yorker

Mary Norris, “keeper of the comma shaker” at The New Yorker, responds to Ben Yagoda’s “Fanfare for the Comma Man” and defends their use of commas in the sentence Yagoda quoted and called “nutty.”

Which brings me to those nutty commas, exemplified by Mr. Yagoda in a sentence about Lee Atwater from a piece by Jane Mayer in the double issue of Feb. 13 & 20, 2012: “Before Atwater died, of brain cancer, in 1991, he expressed regret …” Mr. Yagoda writes, “No other publication would put a comma after ‘died’ or ‘cancer.’ The New Yorker does so because otherwise (or so the thinking goes), the sentence would suggest that Atwater died multiple times and of multiple causes.”

“That is nutty, of course,” he adds. And he’s right. But I would argue that there is another reason to put those commas in that sentence. The point is that Atwater expressed regret before he died. What he died of and when he died of it are both details that the author provides only as an aside, to satisfy the reader’s curiosity. Cause and date of death are not essential to the meaning of the sentence. In fact, I might have been tempted to bury the obituary in parentheses, like a whisper: “Before Atwater died (of brain cancer, in 1991), he expressed regret …”


via Culture Desk: In Defense of “Nutty” Commas : The New Yorker.


(Image from original post linked.)


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