Complaint from a reader

Here is your message from anonymous:

Maybe you don’t care, but you use a lot of comma splices in your articles. I even saw one in a title (“It’s Not Greece The Eurozone Needs To Worry About, It’s Italy Defaulting That Would Be a Problem”). I enjoy reading your work, but this bugs the hell out of me. Please think before you comma.

You can respond the reader directly using the email address below (if available).

Name (optional): anonymous

Email (optional): fake@fake.notreal

Err, what in buggery is a comma splice?

Update, thanks to those who pointed to Wikipedia. So, it violates White and Strunk does it? Good, must do it some more. If I understood what it was of course. My command of grammar isa too slight to understand the explanation.

26 comments on “Complaint from a reader

  1. Dunno but i suspect ironical Muphry obedience.

    “I enjoy reading your work, but this bugs the hell out of me.”

  2. According to the Google, a comma splice is the use of a comma to join two independent clauses and is usually considered a style error in English.
    There are more than 150 million blogs on the internet, rather than complaining about perceived style errors in one of them the reader is free to find a different one more to their liking.

  3. Frankly, complying with some obscure* American rules about writing “literature” is an irrelevance. For people who care about _English_ as opposed to various colonial aberrations, there is a new edition of Fowlers (2015) or even the Oxford “Hart’s Rules”.

  4. E B White was a wonderful author, it’s a shame his strictures on grammar are so prescriptive.

    Does that clarify things?

  5. You do have a “way with words” Tim, which sometimes makes re-reading necessary. Though I find it’s not so often punctuation, as sticking “that”, “which” etc. in weird places. In fact I’ve sometimes wondered if you dictate your Forbes articles.

    We’ll have to bear this in mind when we create the robo-Worstal-article generator 🙂

  6. I use comma splices sometimes – when I’m not using the n-dash or the semi-colon. It’s a style error rather than a grammatical one. I don’t lose any sleep over it. If grammar pedants want to get in a tizzy about it, then they are free to do so.

    My response to such a complaint would be fairly simple – get over it.

  7. I use too many commas myself, but the comma in your headline is just fine, Tim. But, but, but ….

    You use so much sub-American English on this blog maybe you should master their punctuational obsessions: for instance their refusal to use a hyphen when its clarifying power would be useful.

  8. Usually it’s kids who complain about grown-ups trying to give them constructive criticism, not the reverse.

  9. The comma splice in the headline your correspondent quoted was fine. It’s just the rest of your writing that’s a mess!

  10. Oh gawd. Like (condemnation of) the Oxford Comma, this comes from people who refuse to accept that in English the comma has two functions: as a grammatical marker, and as a breathing-point marker.

  11. Some people think mistake language for logic, they assume punctuation and grammar should follow strict rules that mechanically translate to meaning and intention. I prefer the alternative view: written language is fundamentally as musical notation to music, the punctuation is there as an aid to *hearing* what is said.

  12. Splice the main brace and shiver me timbers, I have never in my life heard of a comma splice. Is it an American cocktail drink perhaps?

    A comma in the English language I was taught many years ago, was to be used to indicate a natural pause, a point where, if you were speaking, you would take a breath.

    In written text, it gives the reader, in the absence of vocal tone or modulation, direction how to segment the sentence in order to interpret the meaning intended by the writer- as in the famous example; Eats, shoots and leaves v Eats shoots, and leaves v Eats shoots and leaves.

  13. What ‘Anonymous’ doesn’t seem to grasp is that the “comma splice” has long been a part of that enduring branch of English called “headlinese”. It’s a way of combining two related phrases without using a conjunctive such as “and” or “but” that otherwise would “bust” (overfill) the space allotted for the headline. Famous examples (at least in Fleet Street lore) are “Small earthquake in Chile, not many dead” and “Fog in English Channel, Continent cut off”.
    A common, useful device used by subeditors since the days of Northcliffe. Perhaps not so necessary on the web, where you don’t have to worry about word counts or minding your ems and ens so much, but it adds a certain urgency to a headline, and readers are certainly used to understanding and interpreting headlinese.
    Which makes we wonder if Anonymous has ever read a newspaper in his/her life.
    So splice on, Timbo (though I reckon you’re now going to ask me, “What the buggery are ems and ens?”).

  14. Comma splices look wrong to me and when they turn into run-on sentences they become plain illiterate. I think we should make much greater use of colons, both standard and semi-. You can’t go far wrong with a good workmanlike semicolon; alas their use seems to have fallen into desuetude. For matters of style Fowler is good, but for my money there is a better authority: Partridge. Strunk and White are responsible for a good deal of the constipated style of American journalism. For goodness’ sake eschew the ghastly AP style guide. It is an abomination unto Nuggan, serving only to lend an air of verisimilitude to articles in The Onion.

  15. Strunk and white should be disinterred, ritually hanged, drawn, and quartered, and fed to dung beetles.

  16. Bloke in CR: Well, in print journalism, it’s a toss-up between your perceived “illiteracy” and the ugliness of colons and semicolons when printed at any size more than, say, 18-20 pt. Any higher size and colons and semicolons start looking obtrusive: in your average tabloid front page headline of 100+ pt they are nothing short of an abomination. A cheeky little comma does the job of unobtrusive but effectual division that can be taken in with one glance.
    Note I’m talking about headlines here, not body text, where the normal rules of grammar should apply. I also think you’re on a hiding to nothing if you expect the man on the Clapham omnibus to appreciate the difference between a comma and a colon/semicolon, let alone the difference between a colon and a semicolon. Chomsky and (in the UK) Crystal have seen to that.

  17. Well, I’m not exactly asking to see “PHWOARR: WHAT A SCORCHER!” atop the front page of The Sun.

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