The Comma Queen

I’ve written before about how Mary Norris’s job at the New Yorker is one I not-so-secretly would prefer to the job I actually have. An excerpt of her forthcoming book (Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen) appeared in this week’s issue of the magazine. The whole article is just cool (someone else has already called it “exquisite”); in it she says delightfully witty things like “The serial comma is a pawn in the war between town and gown.”

confessions_comma_queenAnd, her book is the #1 new release in the etymology category on Amazon! Etymology was another career-choice-other-than-accounting that I sometimes fantasized about. This was probably around the time I was reading Beowulf — Seamus Heaney’s version with the side-by-side Old English and modern English — for a Medieval Literature class.

Even if you don’t get as excited about grammar and punctuation as I do, you should go check out this article. All the discussion about how meaning is affected by how we choose to say things — simple comma placement and questions of authorial intent — this is stuff I love to think about. In her own words:

To understand how the language works, though — to master the mechanics of it — you have to roll up your sleeves and join the ink-stained wretches as we name the parts.

Because there’s nothing cooler (to me) than knowing exactly what you mean to say, understanding how to say it, and saying exactly that.


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