Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Speaking Words of Wisdom?




Here's a new one on me: A reader who went to parochial school tells me a nun was "very adamant" about the idea that people's names used in apposition should not be set off with commas, because that would risk confusion with direct address.

In other words, you'd have to say "My mother Mary is at home," because "My mother, Mary, is at home" would be telling someone named Mary that your mother was at home.

Anyone else ever heard of this wacky "rule"?

It's absurd, of course, for a number of reasons. (Even if all your readers were named Mary, most would presumably realize you weren't writing directly to them.) But I suppose some people would roll their eyes at the logic most of us apply -- using commas if we have one mother and no commas if we have two or more.

7 comments:

Jonathon said...

I've never heard it, and I agree that it's absurd. The potential ambiguity is there, but you have to work pretty hard to find it. Even then it's clear that there's no way the author is addressing a hypothetical reader named Mary. No reasonable reader would be confused.

Lance said...

That rule is crazy. Sister should have let it be.

Fritinancy said...

Was this the same nun who insisted that "dilemma" is spelled "dilemna"? (http://thecornfieldonline.com/index.php?topic=31517.60;wap2 and elsewhere)

Bill said...

I thought it was "dilemna" through most of my school years. Must have been all those Notre Dame games.

Alan said...

Much more confusing without the commas, wouldn't you say?

Jim said...

I have indeed heard of this rule -- it was part of the house style at the closed-captioning company I worked for.

Granted, there's obviously a difference between closed-captioning and other types of "print" media (for one thing, despite the spread of DVRs, it's still not assumed that people watching TV with the captions on can go back and reread a sentence if they need it for clarity).

Unknown said...

For me, the commas are the way you distinguish restrictive modifiers from nonrestrictive modifiers (appositives would be among the latter).