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And you kids get off my lawn!

I must be getting old. Or maybe I have been writing for so long, it's hard to read for pure enjoyment. I just finished an excellent historical mystery. The characters were well drawn and historically accurate. The setting was well researched and well described. The mystery itself was intricate, and the writer played fair in giving enough information to let the reader solve the puzzle of who did the murder. But something interfered with my enjoyment in reading the book: comma splices.

I don't know if they still call them that, but when I was in school whenever someone strung two independent clauses together and connected them with only a comma, the teacher put a big red X on the page and called it a comma splice. This book, excellent as was otherwise, had a dozen or so comma splices. When I noticed the first one, I figured the writer and the editor had somehow missed it. After the second I thought, “How sloppy!” By the third one I started to wonder if there had even been an editor. I finally concluded that neither the editor nor the writer knew or cared what a comma splice was. There were a few formatting errors— run together paragraphs and odd hyphenation— but I don't blame the author or even the editor for that. That almost certainly happened when the print book was converted to an ebook and no one proofed it. But comma splices had to have been there all along!

Here's an example:

‘She was a wanton, she tempted me!’

I don't generally like semicolons in dialog, but I would not have complained if these two related but still independent clauses had been linked with a semicolon. Alternatively, there could have been an and between them. But they cannot be linked by a mere comma!

Argh! Now I have to decide whether to buy the next book or not. I think I will get the free sample (usually 10% of the book) and see if the author can go that long without a comma splice, in which case there is hope.

Anyone else got a grammar or punctuation tic that sets them off?

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( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 10th, 2011 05:49 am (UTC)
That's nothing. I read a book a few years back that had as many as six or seven comma splices ON EACH PAGE. Annoyed the hell out of me. I never read anything by that writer again. It was published by a major publisher.
Apr. 10th, 2011 01:00 pm (UTC)
WTF! Have they changed a major rule of English grammar and not told anyone?
Apr. 10th, 2011 02:25 pm (UTC)
It must not be a major offense any more, since Office doesn't even flag it.
Apr. 10th, 2011 02:42 pm (UTC)
I wonder it that's because it's no longer an error, or just because it can't figure out which sentences are comma splices? It's not always accurate when it flags "errors." Some of the things it thinks are mistakes are quite correct, and often following the suggested change makes the wording totally wrong.
Apr. 10th, 2011 03:16 pm (UTC)
There was always the linked thoughts get-out clause (aka, "I came, I saw, I conquered." get out.)

I'm usually fairly lax about comma splices when they are in dialogue because I think it can reflect how people talk.)
Apr. 10th, 2011 03:48 pm (UTC)
I certainly consider dialog has its own rules, as compared to narrative. And I agree people often don't speak in complete sentences. When I want to suggest a sort of stream of consciousness speech, and possibly Incomplete thoughts, I use an em dash between the clauses, or an ellipsis if I want to suggest a pause.

The thing is, this author had so many comma splices that I think it was almost a part of his style. And I don't think he is well served by his editor when this many of them appear in one book.
Apr. 10th, 2011 04:27 pm (UTC)
Never read Jose Saramago. The man hates periods.

I also go batty when I read Cormac McCarthy - not only does he hate punctuating dialogue, but he also hates apostrophes.

Of course those two are good enough writers that I'll read them despite their ticks, so I definitely empathize with you about the splices.

Apr. 10th, 2011 06:00 pm (UTC)
I never read Cormac McCarthy, but it sounds like he would drive me batty, too.

This guy is pretty good, and the sample only had one comma splice, so I will try one more book, and we'll see.
Apr. 11th, 2011 01:34 pm (UTC)
Fortunately, I can turn of my writer's head when reading - except while reading my own work, which I am savagely critical of.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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