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Shift in acceptable use of commas

 
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Joe McWilliams



Joined: 10 Feb 2012
Posts: 689


Location: Canada

PostPosted: Sun Jul 09, 2017 1:06 am    Post subject: Shift in acceptable use of commas  Reply with quote

I've been noticing a change in the way commas are used. It comes up in book after book, jarring me with its inappropriateness. But if it's happening so often, it means it is becoming accepted, and that writers and publishers both think it has value.

An example, from the opening pages of Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train:
'It's going to be a lovely weekend, that's what they're telling us.'

Now that's just dead wrong, according to everything I was taught and have learned as acceptable through my reading. And it was the third or fourth such example in the first three pages, which is all Ms. Hawkins is going to get out of me. Here's another:
'I try not to look up, I try to read the free newspaper I was handed on my way into the station, but the words blur in front of my eyes, nothing holds my interest.'

Kate Atkinson - as much as she pleased me for other reasons - was also doing this, in 'Case  Histories.'

It's obviously not accidental. Writers have decided it works better. Can anybody tell me why?


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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 2980


Location: Owaka, New Zealand

PostPosted: Sun Jul 09, 2017 6:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That's interesting, Joe.  I was thinking of writing that I am enjoying the novel I am reading, except for its punctuation!  The author, Alix Christie, seems to do exactly what you and I are complaining about.  I had just thought it was the author's mistake, since it is her first novel, but maybe you're right and it's a deliberate change of style.  At any rate, I don't like it!


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Chibiabos83
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Joined: 19 Nov 2008
Posts: 3423


Location: Cambridge, UK

PostPosted: Mon Jul 10, 2017 9:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

If I knew more about grammatical terms I'd be able to say exactly why, but the first sentence you quote doesn't bother me at all, Joe. The second one looks very lazy, but I'd overlook it as presumably it's the voice of Hawkins' character, not Hawkins herself (who may be a competent sentence compositor). My guess is that the commas here are meant to create a more breathless style so that the reader reads more quickly. The alternatives (a full stop, a dash, a semicolon) hold you up. An acceptable and probably conscious decision, though not a very aesthetically pleasing one. I'd put more trust in a writer who wants their readers to read slowly and carefully, but The Girl on the Train isn't that kind of book.


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Joe McWilliams



Joined: 10 Feb 2012
Posts: 689


Location: Canada

PostPosted: Tue Jul 11, 2017 3:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It seems to be the way things are going. I don't like it, but like any number of trends in writing and speech, it will roll on regardless of what I think about it. I'll probably just retreat further into a world where people speak and write the way I want them to, i.e. the 19th and 20th centuries.



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