Sunday, November 8, 2009

Coliseums, Commas and Communication


Rob Strong said...

My attention has largely been focused on Snodgrasses this weekend (and one née Snodgrass), so it brings me great pleasure to quote, at length, this anecdote about another pro-serial-comma David:

"He is the only writer ever to convince (or even try to convince) the famously stubborn Times copy desk that we should temporarily ignore the paper's famous serial-comma rule—the paper doesn't use them; this really drove David [Foster Wallace] nuts. His argument was that "10 percent of the cases become howlers without it" and offered the following example: "The elephant fell on the Snodgrass twins, Rodney and Pete." Remove the comma and only two people are crushed by the elephant, whereas the writer might have intended the total to be four. Why complicate comprehension for the sake of a rule? When I told him I thought we were stuck—the institution is bigger than the individual, even this individual—he said he was willing to take up the matter with the copy tsar himself and added, "Just say the author's an eccentric prima donna." Then he laughed."


Joey said...

I love this post, sir. Three cheers (divided by commas of course) for the serial comma.

Joe said...

A comma, dating. Imagine that!