Thursday, December 6, 2012

Using commas correctly (4)

On November 28, I saw this notice* in the Lewisboro [NY] Ledger:
Homestead welcomes historians on Dec. 10

The John Jay Homestead State Historic Site will host a pair of historians on Monday, Dec. 10, as part of the Goodhue Lecture Series.

Kenneth T. Jackson, director of the Herbert H. Lehman Center for American History, and Jacques Barzun, professor in history and the social sciences at Columbia University and the leading historian of New York City, will present “The Resilient Metropolis: The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of New York City.”

For three reasons, I thought this notice was odd: First, although I had attended dozens of public lectures over the years, I could not recall a lecture delivered by a team of two speakers. Second, I did not recall that the famous historian Jacques Barzun had been an authority on New York City. Third, I knew that he had died in October.

I went to the website of the John Jay Homestead. There, the lecture was described as follows:
Annual Goodhue Lecture
An Evening with Kenneth T. Jackson

Presenting The Resilient Metropolis: The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of New York City
Monday, December 10th
6:15 P.M. - Reception
7:00 P.M. - Presentation

Professor Jackson, the Jacques Barzun Professor in History and the Social Sciences at Columbia University, is the pre-eminent historian of New York City; a prolific author, Editor-in-Chief of the renowned Encyclopedia of New York City, and winner of virtually every important history prize in the field.

What a difference a comma can make.

The Takeaway: Even professional journalists make mistakes occasionally; you and I frequently. Always try to have your work edited by a careful reader.

See disclaimer.

*The notice can no longer be accessed online.

1 comment:

  1. My favorite example of the important comma, going the rounds right now on tee shirts and wall plaques, is: "Let's eat, Grandma" as opposted to "Let's eat Grandma." I'll bet Mr. Clarity knows some fine examples of confusion caused by the British style of omitting the last comma in a series.