Thursday, March 25, 2010

Commas, Commas Everywhere

I've been buried under more work than usual lately, most of it deleting and inserting commas in long lists of stuff far too boring to waste your time with here.

The work is making me comma crazy. I finally take a 10-minute break to read a CNN article and see this:

(CNN) -- Acolytes of "Food Rules" guru Michael Pollan and other well-meaning foodies who've made corn a scapegoat for the nation's health crises, this week welcomed a new study from Princeton University that suggests high-fructose corn syrup causes more significant weight gain than table sugar.

Either that comma is an unwelcome intruder between the subject and the verb or, I'm, officially, losing, it.

Bookmark and Share


Joel said...

Maybe the sentence seemed so long and under-punctuated they thought they'd throw a comma randomly into the middle of it, yaknow, just to break things up. More seriously, it feels like "and other well-meaning foodies who've made corn a scapegoat for the nation's health crises" should be somehow parenthetical, so they made a half-assed (think of the lone comma as a single cheek) attempt at it. I can even imagine a process in which there had been a partner comma before the "and" but then someone realized that that wasn't quite right; unfortunately the trailing comma was left behind as a relic. Which is to say it's the sort of thing (maybe not precisely the thing, but within a general class of things) I might do. More likely I'd have set the whole thing off with dashes because I tend to overuse dashes.

June Casagrande said...

Overuse dashes? Is that possible? I've been operating for years on the premise that it's not.

I think that maybe the whole "who've" clause was originally meant to be nonrestrictive, set off with commas on either side. Then someone sort of rethunk it, took out a comma, but didn't rethunk it all the way through.

Also: I was a little shocked at the writer's saying that Pollan followers have "made corn a scapegoat for the nation's health crises." That seems to way too editorial to belong in this piece. Whenever you say that one group has made something a scapegoat, you're basically saying that they're wrong. (The definition of scapegoat, after all, is "One that is made to bear the blame of others.")

Also, I'd argue that the writer's assessment is incorrect. Pollan's view of modern corn production certainly does not make it a scapegoat for "the nation's health crises" or even most of the health problems. He does argue that corn plays a role in the obesity crisis, but that's just part of the problem. But now I'm the one editorializing.

Anyway, I suspect it was just poor word choice and nothing more.

Faldone said...

Another possibility is that newsspeak "this week". Take the comma out and it looks like it was this week that they made corn a scapegoat.

June Casagrande said...

Ah. I didn't think of that.

Either way, it goes to prove this sentence is trying to bite off more than it can chew.

Linnee said...

June, please don't anthropomorphize sentences. They hate that.

June Casagrande said...

: )

Mark said...

I'd toss "this week" from the lead.

You also could break it up into two sentences: "Food Rules" guru Michael Pollan and others argue that corn contributes to obesity and related health problems. Their acolytes welcomed a new study....

June Casagrande said...

Breaking it up into two sentences would definitely be a smart way to go.


Bookmark and Share