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Charles Butler hannibal at thegates.fsbusiness.co.uk
Fri Jan 23 12:12:00 EST 2004


> lizzie

> My question is--has the idea of a comma splice being a bad thing died out
in
> the UK?  I feel like British authors are a lot freer with commas than
American
> authors, and I know that I spent at least a year in high school (along
with my
> junior Advanced Placement English class) having the idea that comma
splices are
> evil drummed into my head.  When I mentioned this to a few people in the
UK,
> they had no idea what I was talking about, but this might have been due to
the
> people I asked.  I've just searched for a website on this:
> http://www.ucfv.bc.ca/writing_centre/res9.htm
>
> The first example it gives of a comma splice is: The island is covered in
> berries, birds and bears love it.  My English teacher would tell you that
this
> is incorrect because it's two independent clauses joined by only a comma;
I
> have seen this quite a few times in presumably copy-edited British novels.

That is a particularly bad (i.e. good) example, because it's so easy to
mistake 'berries, birds and bears' as a list of the the things covering the
island, rather than recognize 'birds and bears' as the subject of a new
clause. (Linguists call these 'garden path sentences', I believe: 'The old
train the young. The horse raced past the barn fell.' etc. You have to 'back
up' and re-read them.) I would definitely get my blue pencil out for that
one, and generally comma-splicing isn't something I like as stylistic habit,
but I don't feel half so strongly about it when it doesn't affect the
meaning or ease of reading. There may indeed be occasions (rare ones, mind)
when comma-splicing helps convey a loose association of ideas.
Intentionally-vague is okay, but unintentionally-ambiguous isn't, I think.

Charlie

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