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Next, the Comma

Rosie Right

No doubt there are many copy editors who are totally comfortable with commas. Rosie is embarassed that she is not. Commas seem to her an art form; sometimes she can be seen mumbling at her desk, reading sentences out loud to see if a comma would help, especially after introductory phrases. There are two reference books that Rosie has found helpful when dealing with this problem. The first is The Random House Handbook, sixth edition, by Frederick Crews. He tells us, "Place a comma after an initial modifying element that is more than a few words long." His examples: "Substantial Sub Clause "After Susan had walked out on him, George spent evenings reading Dr. Lincoln Dollar's helpful book of advice, 'The Aerobic Kama Sutra.'" "Substantial Phrase "In the memorable words of Dr. Dollar, 'No modern home should be without a queen-sized trampoline.'" But he also notes, "If your sentence begins with a brief phrase, consider a following comma optional." This is where Rosie often hesitates. According to Crews the decision often depends "on whether you are trying to be formal or not." So Rosie must wonder: Should the writing in STYLE be formal? Thank goodness Crews gives us a way out. He says, "If you prefer not to worry about whether you are using an initial clause or a phrase, just include the comma; it is never wrong." A friend has given Rosie her Christmas present early: a copy of "Lapsing into a Comma," the new book by Bill Walsh, copy desk chief of the Washington Post's business desk. Walsh also runs a riotous Web site on copy editing, In his discussion of introductory clauses, Walsh writes, "When in doubt use a comma: 1In 1971, Joe Frazier defeated Muhammad Ali.' "The comma can be omitted when things are short and breezy or, especially, when parallelism is needed and extra punctuation would muck things up." But, he warns, "It should never be omitted when it serves to separate two capitalized words." Talk the Talk: Janky, adj. Slang. Of poor quality; bad broken; dirty; etc. Survival horror, n. a genre of video game or movie in which a protagonist must negotiate situations of sensationalist violence, usually having supernatural elements. Source: Jesse Sheidlower, principal editor of the North American editorial unit of the Oxford English Dictionary, writing in the newsletter Copy Editor. Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825), letter (1707 Summit Ave., Richmond, Va. 23230), fax (355-9089) or e-mail

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