Friday, January 22, 2010

What, no square or rectangular people invited?

Ah, what a difference a comma can make.

We're not talking the comma of million dollar (Canadian) fame, but just the same, one that would have saved a little snickering here at CSJ central.

This one is from the New York Times (which seems in the past couple of days to be the mega-mart of editing errors -- see my previous two posts) and the post "A Bomb Squad for Wall Street" by William D. Cohan. Take a look:


The sentence in question is the lede: Gather round people, today we are going to discuss the highly opaque but hugely important topic of "O.T.C. derivatives" ...

Now, at a svelte 280 - OK, 300 . Well, OK 31 ... let's just not go there ... I probably qualify as a "round people" and can join the discussion. You scrawny 250-pounders, go away. Nothing to see here. (Although perhaps he is giving you a directive to pick up every rotund roustabout you see and bring them on over to the NYT site.)

Have you seen the problem by now? It's that "people" is a noun of address, and nouns of address are set off by commas to avoid just such ambiguity. So with the wayward comma thusly inserted:

Gather round, people, today we are going to discuss the highly opaque but hugely important topic of "O.T.C. derivatives" ...

It becomes clear, the snicker level goes down, and I don't have to worry about a bunch of 220-pounders hunting me down.

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3 Comments:

At 1/22/10, 7:51 PM, Blogger Jack Rosenberry said...

This was LOL funny, Doug. Tweeted it for you, too.

 
At 1/23/10, 3:05 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Thanks, Jack. Hope the semester is going well.
Fish

 
At 1/26/10, 3:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No apostrophe? I'd prefer "Gather 'round," at least in print.

 

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