Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Mon Jun 14 18:01:53 UTC 2004

i seem to be turning into a ranting curmudgeon; the events of the past
year have left me with little patience for nonsense (like the blind
application of "rules" from style sheets, as below), though i have
endless patience for things i consider to be important.

in the (slightly edited) exchange below, provided for your
entertainment, i demand the reinstatement of a comma in a course
description.  i'm pleased to say that the stanford bulletin editor
replied with a charming note conceding my point and restoring the
comma, a decision applauded by both my department chair and the provost
of the university.

arnold (zwicky at csli.stanford.edu)

Begin forwarded message:

> From: Arnold M. Zwicky <zwicky at csli.stanford.edu>
> Date: June 11, 2004 6:06:55 PM PDT
> To: [ML]
> Cc: [various university administrators]
> Subject: Re: LINGUIST 30Q
> On Jun 11, 2004, at 3:19 PM, [ML] wrote:
>>  Hi Arnold,
>>  Stylistically, the Bulletin office is opposed to the addition of the
>> comma in your course description. Would you like me to "take up the
>> fight", so to speak, or is it alright without the comma?
>>  Date: Fri, 11 Jun 2004 14:50:21 -0700
>>  To: [ML]
>>  From: [SS]
>>  Subject: Re: LINGUIST 30Q
>>  Hi [M],
>>  We do not use a comma before "including" or "such as" anywhere in
>> the Bulletin. Descriptions are more like recipes or koans  than
>> expository prose, and many of the style conventions that we use
>> derive from that. Because we use extra commas in lists of 3 or more
>> (i.e., before the "and"), I tend to minimize commas elsewhere unless
>> there is a "meaning reason."
>> Hi [S],
>>  Arnold Zwicky approves of the LINGUIST 30Q course description,
>> except would like to add an extra comma:
>>   i'd like a comma in here:
>>   The real system of English grammar and usage, including...
> I suppose I should point out the irony of [SS]'s pronouncement with
> respect to the content of the course I am asking to teach.
> There are good reasons for having, or not having, a comma before
> "including" or "such as" (the two cases are not parallel, by the way).
>  A careful writer will consider these.  I wanted that comma because
> the version the Registrar's office wants to insist on --
>   The real system of English grammar and usage including prepositions,
> pronouns, modifiers, syntactic functions such as subjects, and forms
> such as the accusative case.
> -- fails to distinguish between nonrestrictive modifiers (my
> intention) and restrictive modifiers (the Registrar's version).  I
> would silently correct the Registrar's version in material I was
> editing for publication; it strikes me as semi-literate.
> The Registrar's office is, of course, entitled to do whatever it
> wants.  It could decide that the "zw" in my family name is
> unacceptable and insist on correcting it to "zaw".  It could decide
> that my whole name is too peculiar and should be replaced by something
> truly American, say, "Alex Adams".  But I don't have to cooperate.
> Much as I like teaching Stanford undergraduates, and being paid for
> it, I don't have to assent to arbitrary reworkings of what I write.
> The Registrar's office proposes to save commas before "including",
> apparently because it's spent its comma quota on serial commas (a good
> decision, by the way, though I can't imagine why this should be viewed
> as a zero-sum game).  This is just a pig-ignorant decision to go for
> consistency, in some utterly superficial sense.  (What person reading
> the Bulletin could *possibly* notice that there was an inconsistency
> in the use of commas before "including"?  Who the hell could care?  Is
> there a problem with commas increasing the size of the Bulletin?  Get
> a grip, people.)
> Look, one of the *points* of the course I am hoping to teach is that
> official pronouncements on the use of language -- even including the
> fine details of punctuation -- are not necessarily accurate, sensible,
> or worthy of attention.  Some of them are just fucked.
> The Registrar's office is, as I said, entitled to do what it wants.
> I, too, am a free agent.  If the Registrar's office insists on its
> version, I choose to opt out.  I utterly love teaching SIS courses,
> but not at the cost of being pushed around on points on which I am
> something of an authority.
> Put back the comma or lose me.  I'm deadly serious about this.

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