[Ads-l] The NYT: comma > semi-colon

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton3 at VIRGINMEDIA.COM
Sun Nov 6 20:04:59 EST 2016


Dan, 

Wilson's original post, if I remember this correctly, simply posed the bare
example of the phrase taken from the NYT, implicitly suggesting some unease with
the way in which the material was presented, an unease which I shared.

Since then, the discussion has drifted somewhat.  It does seem that the
consensus among what seem to me relatively reputable grammar sites, whether or
not they explicitly refer back to the various style sheets, is that in what
would normally be comma-separated lists, where the list items themselves contain
commas, the items should then (normally) be separated by semicolons.

Whether or not the Parenthesis Rule (if it is a rule), that when one or more of
the list items contains additional information, that element of the list item
should be marked by parentheses, takes priority over or simply coexists with the
comma-to-semicolon rule, I really don't know enough about the style sheets to
say.  It does seem to me that the difference between commensurate and
non-commensurate lists leads me to prefer parentheses to semicolons in that
instance.

That said, I'm left with a question which has absolutely nothing to do with the
discussion so far, but which occurred to me as it developed.

When  the printer Robert Copland, fluent in French and also one of the earliest
editors of Chaucer,  came to print his best-known poem, a partial  translation
from the French mixed with his own original material, The Highway to the Spittal
House (c 1530), he chose to punctuate this text as if it were a manuscript.

Hitherto, I've simply noted this as an interesting index of the peculiar
happenings around English punctuation at this time, which culminate in the
horrors of Tottel's Miscellany (to give that work its familiar title), where the
pointing of the poems of Thomas Wyatt is so heavy as to be mind-numbing.

Why it never occurred to me before to find out how Copland, as a printer in the
early sixteenth century, at a cusp in the evolution of punctuation conventions,
treated the presentation of a medieval manuscript dating from the late
fourteenth century, I'm not quite sure, other than that the question is of such
apparent inconsequentiality that it simply shouldn't arise.

So now I find myself forced to glumly travel in the direction of Early English
Books Online to access a facsimile of Copland's edition of Chaucer and see what
therein lies.  More interesting, for me at least, than perusing contemporary
stylesheets.

Thus am I punished for my sins.

I will report back to this estimable list in the doubtful event that anything of
interest emerges.

Best,

Robin

> 
>     On 06 November 2016 at 19:24 Dan Goncharoff <thegonch at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> 
> 
>     Robin
> 
>     You are correct that parentheses are another way to go. I don't think that
>     was the original question.
> 
>     On Nov 6, 2016 2:16 PM, "Robin Hamilton" <robin.hamilton3 at virginmedia.com>
>     wrote:
> 
>     > But parentheses are QUOTE used to add information to items in a list
>     > UNQUOTE
>     > (passim in various grammar sites dealing with this issue).
>     >
>     > Thus we have our basic comma-separated list:
>     >
>     > Chicago, St. Louis, Orlando, and suburban Henry County.
>     >
>     > With information added, we have:
>     >
>     > Chicago, St. Louis, Orlando (Fla.), and suburban Henry County (Ga.).
>     >
>     > The original cited list:
>     >
>     > Chicago; St. Louis; Orlando, Fla.; and suburban Henry County, Ga.
>     >
>     > ... uses semicolons to separate incommensurate items.
>     >
>     > When the parentheses are added according to the accepted conventions of
>     > the
>     > style manuals, then the need for the semicolons disappears.
>     >
>     > I don't know about Wilson, but I think that was what was itching my
>     > brain
>     > in the
>     > first place, not that I have any particularly rooted objection to the
>     > use
>     > of a
>     > semicolon in such circumstances normally.
>     >
>     > Itch scratched.
>     >
>     > Robin
>     >
>     > >
>     > > On 06 November 2016 at 12:54 Dave Wilton <dave at WILTON.NET> wrote:
>     > >
>     >
>     > >
>     > > Parentheses don't always work well. If you're writing a piece that
>     > > requires parenthetical source citations, other uses of parentheses can
>     > > be
>     > > distracting, if not downright confusing.
>     > >
>     >
>     > >
>     > >
>     > >
>     > >
>     > > Using semicolons to separate list-items that contain commas is a
>     > standard
>     > > orthographic practice. You'll find it in just about every style
>     > manual in
>     > > existence (e.g., Oxford, Garner, Chicago, Cambridge, and MLA
>     > 7--before MLA
>     > > 8
>     > > eliminated all its non-citation style requirements). I don't know
>     > about
>     > > the
>     > > NYT style guide in particular, but I'd be surprised if it were any
>     > > different.
>     > >
>     > >
>     > >
>     > >
>     > >
>     > > --Dave Wilton
>     > >
>     > > Department of English
>     > >
>     > > Texas A&M University
>     > >
>     > > dwilton at tamu.edu / dave at wilton.net
>     > >
>     > >
>     > >
>     > >
>     > >
>     > > -----Original Message-----
>     > >
>     > > From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On
>     > Behalf
>     > > Of
>     > > Robin Hamilton
>     > >
>     > > Sent: Sunday, November 06, 2016 1:39 AM
>     > >
>     > > To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
>     > >
>     > > Subject: Re: [ADS-L] The NYT: comma > semi-colon
>     > >
>     > >
>     > >
>     > > Further:
>     > >
>     > >
>     > >
>     > > Wilson's original NYT cite: "... in Chicago; St. Louis; Orlando,
>     > Fla.; and
>     > > suburban Henry County, Ga."
>     > >
>     > >
>     > >
>     > > I'd do as:
>     > >
>     > >
>     > >
>     > > "... in Chicago, St. Louis, Orlando (Fla.), and suburban Henry
>     > > County, Ga."
>     > >
>     > >
>     > >
>     > > ... where by the time we reach suburban Henry County, the context
>     > > disambiguates the final comma.
>     > >
>     > >
>     > >
>     > > "... Henry County (Ga.)." strikes me as a little picky, even though
>     > the
>     > > parens should possibly be there for the sake of consistency with
>     > "(Fla.)".
>     > >
>     > >
>     > >
>     > > [Though as a poor benighted Brit, I may be getting my geographical
>     > > abbreviations in a twist.]
>     > >
>     > >
>     > >
>     > > Robin Hamilton
>     > >
>     > >
>     > >
>     > >
>     > > ------------------------------------------------------------
>     > > The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>     > >
>     >
>     > ------------------------------------------------------------
>     > The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>     >
> 
>     ------------------------------------------------------------
>     The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> 

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