Friday, June 17, 2005


Clearing out the notebook . . .

  • Comma before "and" when the word is joining two independent clauses, right? Hell, I've even hit you over the head with that concept. But there's a "but." Observe:

    "From the beginning, the company has acknowledged wrongdoing and we’re going to have to take responsibility for our actions," he said.
    If you're tempted to put a comma before that "and," hold on. The comma belongs there if the speaker is asserting that the company must take responsibility. It doesn't belong there if, as is more likely, he is listing that as one of two things the company has acknowledged. He may indeed agree with the assertion, but in the context of this sentence he's saying "The company has acknowledged a and b," not "The company has acknowledged a, and I would like to add b." Sometimes an independent clause is a tad on the dependent side.

  • Still using the "small-business man" example to illustrate the joy of hyphenation? It's a classic, but it's flawed, because "businessman" is one word -- doubters could point out that "small business man" is different from "small businessman." Try this: A small town judge is different from a small-town judge.

  • From the "Say what you mean, mean what you say" file:

    According to industry executives and analysts, the management strategy that made Dell a successful computer company could do the same for the fast-food chain.
    The fast-food chain wants to become a successful computer company? No.

    In the players' box was Tony Nadal, the uncle and coach of Rafael Nadal since he started playing as a youngster.
    Tony didn't become Rafael's uncle until Rafael started playing tennis? No.

    Members of the platoon testified that they punched, kicked and struck the detainee with their rifles.
    They punched him with their rifles and kicked them with their rifles? No.

    Unlike the Middle Ages, when books were made of parchment so expensive that they were mainly for the wealthy, papyrus was more accessible to members of all classes.
    Papyrus was unlike the Middle Ages? Well, yes, but . . .


    DANIELBLOOM said...

    Off topic but trying to reach you from taiwan, re ATOMIC TYPO. Ever heard of this term and why is it called such?

    Dan Bloom at Copydesk Taiwan

    i asked Bill Safire but he doesn't reply to any emails. What about you? Any idea?

    Examples: unclear or nuclear, sudan or sedan, crist or other words, a small, very small typograhic mistake, that ends up making a HUGE difference in the meaning!!!

    EXAMPLE: letter to editor: [Tom Morris of Jupiter flagged an atomic typo in the May 14 article, "Crist to run Martinez's Senate campaign," about Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist and U.S. Senate candidate Mel Martinez. Regarding the quote, " 'We share the same values, conservative values,' Christ said," Morris noted: "It's printed Christ, C-h-r-i-s-t, instead of Crist, C-r-i-s-t. I'm sure Christ doesn't back Sen. Martinez's campaign. I think it is a mistake and should be corrected."]

    aparker54 said...

    Now I'm confused. Though "schoolteacher" and "bookstore" are single words, I've always written "high school teacher" (should it be "high-school teacher"? Surely not "high schoolteacher"!) and "used-book store" (not "used bookstore," as the store wasn't used). In such cases, including "small-business man," must I just write around the problem?

    Bill said...

    No, quite the opposite. Schoolteacher, high-school teacher (or, if you must, high school teacher). Businessman, small-business man. Gunfire, machine-gun fire.

    Peter Fisk said...

    Bill, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you’re saying that the passage means:

    "From the beginning, the company has acknowledged wrongdoing and (that) we’re going to have to take responsibility for our actions," he said.

    If so, the second clause is not independent at all. It’s a noun clause, the object of has acknowledged.

    Bill said...

    Right, Peter. I should have said that the clause could function independently but in this case does not.

    Neal said...

    Your Rafael Nadal and "punched, kicked, and struck" coordinations are good examples of what I've named "Friends in Low Places" coordinations, from a line in the song of that name: "where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases my blues away." In my speech, at least, you can't drown something away, but I've seen enough coordinations like this one that I'm starting to think that some people's grammars have a rule that allows for this kind of non-parallel coordination.