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Dingbang
08-09-2014, 10:32 AM
I often see comma splices in mainstream publications, so often that it seems they are acceptable now. Today's Wall Street Journal has one in the first letter to the editor:

"Intolerance shares the same characteristics as cancer, it will grow wildly when untreated."

To me, it seems obvious that the comma should be a colon or a dash. A period would work, but not as well.

Other examples I've seen lately are even more clear cut. In those, the sentence is simply two declarative clauses connected with a comma when they should be two separate sentences. The clauses do not refer to one another.

So has something changed while I had my back turned? Are comma splices now just fine and dandy?

wolfpup
08-09-2014, 10:50 AM
So has something changed while I had my back turned? Are comma splices now just fine and dandy?

There's always going to be some element of subjectivity about what is "acceptable", but in my view, absolutely not. The example you gave is just jarringly wrong. I suspect the reason people write like that is that colons and semicolons tend to be more rarely seen than the ubiquitous comma, especially in informal writing, so maybe they feel it makes the writing seem too formal or stilted. But the result is still indisputably wrong. You're quite correct that the example you gave calls for a colon. A weak argument could be made that a semicolon or em dash works, too, but using a comma in my opinion is just illiteracy.

Morgyn
08-09-2014, 11:27 AM
Not just no, but HELL NO. Comma splices are never, ever acceptable.

The editor who allowed that little abomination to be published should be publicly humiliated.

erysichthon
08-09-2014, 11:39 AM
I've noticed the same thing. I've found comma splices in books from major, mainstream publishers. My theory is that seeing them constantly in unedited writing on the internet (Facebook, blogs, YouTube comments, etc.) has desensitized people to them.
.

kanicbird
08-09-2014, 11:44 AM
Your above example of the use of a comma splice shares the same characteristics as proverbial poetry, it will grow wildly when untreated.

:D

watchwolf49
08-09-2014, 11:55 AM
We live in a time where media sources are in a balls out race to get stories printed. This whole "editing" step is being skipped for the most part. This example is pretty tame compared to some of the gaffs I've seen.

Ximenean
08-09-2014, 12:18 PM
That's "gaffes" ;) . I agree that it is a combination of the internet making us accustomed to bad writing by amateurs (see also just about any Wikipedia article), and media sites being under pressure to get the story out, because there is so much competition now.

jtur88
08-09-2014, 12:30 PM
Newspapers pretty much make up their own style guide, and it sometimes favors concise brevity, rather than formal syntax.

I'm reminded of a colleague of mine who worked for a newspaper that replaced the "c" in Mc- names with an apostrophe, like M'Carthy or M'Gee. My friend's name was McIntyre, and complained that "M'Intyre" in his byline robbed him of some part of his identity.

By the way, the newspaper in question (New Orleans Times Picayune), like many southern papers, had a policy of referring to a white woman as "Mrs Smith", but a black woman as "the Jones woman". Their husbands would be "Mr Smith" and "Jones". This enabled them to indicate the unstated race of persons in news reports.

So, the answer to the OP is that newspapers can make all sorts of things acceptable, within the compass of journalism.

Elemenopy
08-09-2014, 12:31 PM
Are letters to the editor fully proofread and corrected, though? I have never assumed that they were. All of the "Opinion" sections I can recall seeing have a disclaimer stating that the newspaper has a right to do some editing (for brevity if nothing else), but I have seen a good deal of colloquialisms and poor grammar throughout the years.

As far as the rest of the newspaper articles: yes, I agree that overall proofreading seems to be rushed. I really skim the news these days and I still detect quite a few obvious errors.

Comma splices really annoy me, because proper use of a semi-colon is such a basic rule in English. We were taught/drilled in its function is the third grade, but it was already pretty ingrained in my head just from reading. (I remember which grade we were taught to use semi-colons, because that teacher was very fond of old-school sentence diagramming.)

Thudlow Boink
08-09-2014, 12:33 PM
Comma splices really annoy me, because proper use of a semi-colon is such a basic rule in English.I had at least one English teacher in high school for whom the comma splice was on the short list of "automatic F" offenses.

Elemenopy
08-09-2014, 12:33 PM
By the way, the newspaper in question (New Orleans Times Picayune), like many southern papers, had a policy of referring to a white woman as "Mrs Smith", but a black woman as "the Jones woman". Their husbands would be "Mr Smith" and "Jones". This enabled them to indicate the unstated race of persons in news reports

That is fascinating! I wonder whether I would have picked up on that as a young reader. Do you know when the Times-Picayune stopped using that form of address? I'll have to ask my husband if he ever saw that, since he grew up in NO.

Dingbang
08-09-2014, 02:36 PM
Are letters to the editor fully proofread and corrected, though? I have never assumed that they were.

Yes, they are. Or rather, they should be, especially at a paper with the stature of the WSJ. I've worked at newspapers and in publishing for a long time, and nothing was supposed to see print without thorough editing. Letters to the editor always needed a good edit.

Regarding the southern papers that had a code for noting the race of people, it also used to be common for newspapers (especially smaller hometown papers) to use a code for obituaries. I don't remember all of it, but "died of a lingering illness" meant cancer,"died suddenly" meant a heart attack, "died peacefully" meant natural causes, and so on. Everyone pretty much knew what the phrases meant but it was a more genteel way, respectful approach.

rsa
08-09-2014, 04:50 PM
Comma splices really annoy me, because proper use of a semi-colon is such a basic rule in English.
I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who would write: "Intolerance shares the same characteristics as cancer; it will grow wildly when untreated."

Not, "Intolerance shares the same characteristics as cancer: it will grow wildly when untreated" as some posters up thread asserted.

jtur88
08-09-2014, 04:59 PM
I think I've read entire novels without seeing a single semicolon. They occur much more often in non-fiction.

Personal
08-09-2014, 05:06 PM
I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who would write: "Intolerance shares the same characteristics as cancer; it will grow wildly when untreated."

Not, "Intolerance shares the same characteristics as cancer: it will grow wildly when untreated" as some posters up thread asserted.

I agree. I'd be interested to hear the argument in favor of the colon.

RivkahChaya
08-09-2014, 05:16 PM
Intolerance shares the same characteristics as cancer: it will grow wildly when untreated.

Colon, or semi-colon, that sentence still has problems. Since when is there a "shares...as" construction? It needs to be "Intolerance and cancer share a characteristic: they will grow wildly when untreated"; or "Intolerance shares a characteristic with cancer: they both grow wildly when untreated." Or something.

All in all, I think it's pretty clear the newspaper does not proofread op-ed letters. Maybe this is the policy; they publish them, warts and all. Some papers do, and it's a fair policy, IMO.

Hey Hey Paula
08-09-2014, 05:20 PM
I agree. I'd be interested to hear the argument in favor of the colon.

I agree as well. I'm a legal secretary and spend a good portion of my working life making sure the commas, semicolons, dashes and stuff all go in the right place. I work for people who graduated from law school and passed the bar, but can't write in proper business English for some reason. (Pet peeve: starting a sentence with And or But. Just don't.)

It's starting to feel like i'm the only one in the office who cares. :(

wolfpup
08-09-2014, 05:23 PM
I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who would write: "Intolerance shares the same characteristics as cancer; it will grow wildly when untreated."

Not, "Intolerance shares the same characteristics as cancer: it will grow wildly when untreated" as some posters up thread asserted.

You and many others, but it doesn't make it right. You're not the only one by any means; [correct use of semicolon!] quite frankly, I probably would, too, in informal writing -- or I might use the em dash as I just did. But it's not strictly correct where a colon is called for, and it basically all comes down to how concerned one is with being correct at the expense of possibly sounding to your particular audience like an anal-retentive grammar freak. But in anything formal enough to be printed and published, I'd certainly go with the correct usage. The colon provides a break with the implication that a direct consequence of the statement is coming, while the semicolon just provides a generic break. So using a semicolon in the exact context for which a colon is intended is suboptimal and technically wrong. But using a comma is just complete ignorance.

Senegoid
08-09-2014, 11:51 PM
Who here had read "The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez?

It's a short story, about 2160 words long (in this English translation (PDF) (http://www.google.com/url?q=http://jessbarga.escuelacampoalegre.wikispaces.net/file/view/GGM,%2BThe%2BLast%2BVoyage%2Bof%2Bthe%2BGhost%2BShip.pdf&sa=U&ei=vPjmU67RDdPF8QH6xYCIBg&ved=0CBQQFjAA&usg=AFQjCNF9l8Ky0B2YhEexXp8edKejx6vF1A)) -- and it's all ONE sentence!

Acsenray
08-09-2014, 11:58 PM
The Harry Potter books are full of comma splices. Drove me nuts.

watchwolf49
08-10-2014, 12:11 AM
The future is in ellipses ... invest now ... they can be both period ... and comma ... at the same time ...

CookingWithGas
08-10-2014, 05:20 AM
Are letters to the editor fully proofread and corrected, though?I have had letters to the editor published in the Washington Post. In each case they exchanged a few emails with me showing me the edited version to confirm that it didn't change the intended meaning and that I didn't object. They did take a certain amount of liberty with the original even though there was nothing that was a flat-out error.

Elemenopy
08-10-2014, 09:09 AM
I have had letters to the editor published in the Washington Post. In each case they exchanged a few emails with me showing me the edited version to confirm that it didn't change the intended meaning and that I didn't object. They did take a certain amount of liberty with the original even though there was nothing that was a flat-out error.

OK, I never knew that.

jtur88
08-10-2014, 09:29 AM
I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who would write: "Intolerance shares the same characteristics as cancer; it will grow wildly when untreated."

Not, "Intolerance shares the same characteristics as cancer: it will grow wildly when untreated" as some posters up thread asserted.

You're right, that is a terrible sentence. First, the plural 'characteristics' is wrong, since only one characteristic is referenced. And if a characteristic is shared, it is redundant to say it is the same one. However, the colon is defensible. A colon is a marker that indicates "Examples follow", and indeed, the writer here followed the colon with an example. As in "There is only one God: Allah."

I also disagree with the argument that the comma is wrong. My opening sentence (You're right, that is a terrible sentence.) is defective by the same rule. In a technical treatise, it would require some kind of a conjunction, verbal or punctuation, but as a casual remark, anything other than a comma would rob it of impact. There are times when a point is better made with a broken rule. An argument becomes much less forceful if you have to keep distracting your listener by replacing "they" with a pedantic "he or she".

bob++
08-10-2014, 11:19 AM
The Harry Potter books are full of comma splices. Drove me nuts.

Also many clichés and near plagiarisms.

I read somewhere that the semi colon is falling out of use on the grounds that so many people do not understand it. We also have, over here, an attempt by local councils to remove possessive apostrophes from place names.

dropzone
08-10-2014, 11:36 AM
You're right, that is a terrible sentence. First, the plural 'characteristics' is wrong, since only one characteristic is referenced. And if a characteristic is shared, it is redundant to say it is the same one.These.However, the colon is defensible.It better be, as it's the only correct mark.I also disagree with the argument that the comma is wrong.You should not disagree. It is an abomination in the eyes of Allah.There are times when a point is better made with a broken rule.Aha! The old, "I know the rules, therefore I can break them," gambit. It only works if the author has demonstrated that he knows the rules, and few people today know the rules. I don't, for instance. I take what I've seen and incorporate it into my writing, making up BS reasons what the rule is and why it was made. I like the usage I've seen in 19th-Century novels, which were written to be read aloud. There I've found that commas, semi-colons, colons, and periods (full stops) are sometimes used as rests are in musical notation, corresponding to quarter rest, half rest, dotted half rest, and full rest. The author was orchestrating the reading. (Note: I don't know music, either.)

Acsenray
08-10-2014, 11:42 AM
I think the U.S. government banned apostrophes in place names more than a century ago, granting an exception only for Martha's Vineyard. It had something to do with the use of apostrophe-like symbols on maps.

dropzone
08-10-2014, 11:54 AM
Is that what happened? I cringe when I see the town name Downers Grove. Not that I know any members of the Downer family. (obvious joke skipped for once)

Sherrerd
08-10-2014, 04:44 PM
All in all, I think it's pretty clear the newspaper does not proofread op-ed letters. Maybe this is the policy; they publish them, warts and all.

I'd have assumed this was the case at most papers. For one thing, if the letter-writer displays ignorance of language, it might be fair to question that letter-writer's expertise on the topic under discussion. The newspaper employee choosing letters to publish might decide to leave intact such clues to the letter-writer's intellectual talents.

For another thing, it's cheaper to have no actual editors-who-proof-and-correct on staff. ("Self-editing" is the rule in many modern workplaces, unfortunately.)



The Harry Potter books are full of comma splices. Drove me nuts.

Elmore Leonard used them, too--to better effect, in my opinion. Leonard's purpose was to show the inner thought processes of his characters. (Is it possible that Rowling admired that technique and sought to emulate it?)

MsKaren
08-10-2014, 08:51 PM
Here is a page on using semicolons: http://http://theoatmeal.com/comics/semicolon :D

Quote:
Originally Posted by CookingWithGas
I have had letters to the editor published in the Washington Post. In each case they exchanged a few emails with me showing me the edited version to confirm that it didn't change the intended meaning and that I didn't object. They did take a certain amount of liberty with the original even though there was nothing that was a flat-out error.

That was also my experience.

rsa
08-10-2014, 09:21 PM
Here is a page on using semicolons: theoatmeal.com/comics/semicolon (http://theoatmeal.com/comics/semicolon) :D

Fixed your link there MsKaren.

MsKaren
08-10-2014, 10:51 PM
Fixed your link there MsKaren.

Thanks, rsa. I was distracted by the supermoon. Yeah, the supermoon. :o :D

Acsenray
08-10-2014, 10:57 PM
Also many clichés and near plagiarisms.


I'm not sure that "near plagiarism" actually means anything.