NYTimes Commas

The excerpt below is from the New York Times and I’m pretty sure I’m right but am not sure, so feel free to weigh in (all 3 of you out there).

The way it’s punctuated now, it seems, makes it either a comma splice or a missing comma.

I would punctuate it ‘and, yes, she’s tried’, reading the ‘yes’ as an aside that should be set off as with parentheses.

Without the comma before ‘yes’, as it is written now, the ‘yes’ becomes the element connected by the ‘and’, which makes the ‘she’s tried’ a separate clause and so one needing a conjunction. (Whew. Did you follow that one?)

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And from later in the article.


Again, it would seem necessary to have a comma between ‘and’ and ‘if’ to maintain structure. Otherwise the protasis of the conditional seems connected to the ‘and’ (when it’s really the apodosis that is, yes?), or the comma between ‘all’ and ‘you’ seems superfluous (but it’s not as if you’d leave that stretch with no comma at all).


Dunkin’ (Donuts) – Gerund or Participle

Was reading this piece from Boston Magazine and it struck me that it referred to the Dunkin’ in Dunkin Donuts as a gerund. My first instinct was to rebel: so few people actually know what a gerund is (and like to impress people by using the term for the -ing form) that it’s just plain wrong. But then I thought about it a bit and realized that, as is so often the case with grammar, it’s open to interpretation.

It all comes down the grammatical context within which the expression Dunkin’ Dounts functions. If, in fact, the act of dunking donuts, say, is awesome, then, indeed it is a gerund: Dunkin'(g) Donuts is awesome! If, on the other hand, dunkin’ is a truncated verb, it becomes a participle: I am dunking donuts.

Even without grammatical context, ambiguity remains: the act of dunking (gerund) or one dunking (participle).

I’ll admit too that, even as I write this, I’m becoming more won over by the gerund reading / interpretation; it’s simply a stronger idea. But still an interesting process to go through.

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Gender Neutrality and They

This year’s American Dialect Society‘s word of the year was ‘they’, not so much the pronoun itself but the use of the pronoun as a gender neutral singular pronoun:

The use of singular they builds on centuries of usage, appearing in the work of writers such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen. In 2015, singular theywas embraced by the Washington Post style guide. Bill Walsh, copy editor for the Post, described it as “the only sensible solution to English’s lack of a gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronoun.”

While editors have increasingly moved to accepting singular they when used in a generic fashion, voters in the Word of the Year proceedings singled out its newer usage as an identifier for someone who may identify as “non-binary” in gender terms.

I ran across an interesting illustration of the tension implicit in the word this morning. I saw a series of tweets from Boston news outlets about a shooting in which the shooter took ‘their’ own life. I wondered whether this was grammatical laziness or an actual lack of knowledge of the gender of the shooter (and kudos to them for not assuming a male, though I did).

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Fox 25’s first tweet I think handles it most elegantly with the simple, if spare, ‘took own life’. Channel 7 uses ‘their’ and Fox 25 follows suit a few minutes later.

I looked into the story and it turns out that in fact the gender was not known. Cambridge police uses ‘their’, while the Fox 25 website in the headline uses ‘own’ and in the text uses ‘his or her’, itself I would say a confirmation of unknown gender and the use of ‘their’ to indicate this unknown gender rather than grammatical laziness.

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An interesting collection of examples of the way grammar can be interpreted both (potentially) incorrectly and, in the end, it seems, correctly.

Ambiguity – Participle vs. Gerund [Outside Magazine online Article]

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When I first read the first sentence below, I assumed that ‘performing’ was a participle, modifying the ‘you’ that is the subject. But that reading of course leaves ‘can’ without a subject, which I assumed initially was a mistake. Upon a second reading, however, it’s not; ‘performing’ is the subject of ‘can’ as a gerund. But this example reinforces the confusion that can arise from the present participle and the gerund sharing that -ing ending.

Ambiguity – Tickle Me Elmo Video

Not a grumble but an interesting illustration of the importance of commas (see the classic: Let’s eat, grandma). When I first read the first sentence below, I assumed Elmo was the object of tickle, and so assumed that the comma was a mistake. But of course it’s not. But it does change the meaning. The comma makes the Elmo a direct address, i.e. Elmo is being spoken to rather than, if there were no comma, the audience being to spoken to about Elmo.

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