As we await delivery of our summer issue (due any day from our printer), we’re not exactly picking our noses. Or if we are picking our noses, it’s because we weren’t raised right, not because we have nothing better to do. For one thing, we’re all reading rapaciously to keep on top of all the submissions, which have doubled in number the past couple of weeks as all you deadline-conscious writers try to get in under the wire. (Our reading period ends Thursday [tears, lamentation]. . . . But lo, our contest starts Friday [pennants, pumping fists].) We’re also getting a jump on copy-editing our fall number. In late summer we’ll shoot it to the typesetter, and maybe, just maybe, if we are caught up on everything else, we can spend a few days on flotation devices in a large, warm body of liquid, preferably holding sweating glasses of some improbably colored beverage. But we get ahead of ourselves. Right now we’ve got commas on our minds. Not literally, because that would look weird. Rather, we’ve been thinking about them in the proper-usage sense, and in the spirit of summer giving, we thought we’d post about a situation in which commas are often used incorrectly. Curiously, this error stems from people being scrupulous about the commas in a given sentence . . . and they use one too many.
The problem arises from the complex-compound sentence. That’s a sentence that has at least two independent clauses with a dependent clause or phrase thrown in. An example is the sentence above beginning with “Rather.” It seems the temptation is to add an extra, unnecessary comma after “and,” thus treating the prepositional phrase as a parenthetical. The effect is clunky and chopped-up: “. . . sense, and, in the spirit of summer giving, we . . .” Blech. Here’s another off-the-cuff example:
The convict ruminated on his criminal past, and hoisting his squeeze bottle of Elmer’s, he lamented that he had not discovered earlier the joy of popsicle-stick art.
Still a bit clunky. Two he’s in swift succession. To streamline, we’d probably edit this line as follows (and move the comma accordingly):
The convict ruminated on his criminal past and, hoisting his squeeze bottle of Elmer’s, lamented that he had not discovered earlier the joy of popsicle-stick art.
Hope this clears the comma air. Happy punctuating!