Use “Earring” Commas Correctly.

If you have attended one of my workshops on punctuation, you already know what I mean by "earring" commas.  Whenever you drop a phrase or clause into the middle of another idea, it is necessary to set off the dropped-in phrase BEFORE and AFTER with commas.  Most of us remember to insert the comma BEFORE but then get busy with the rest of the sentence and forget the one AFTER.

In a Birmingham News article this week about the new "oil spill claims czar," the reporter remembered to use both commas but put the second one in the wrong place.  Here is the sentence:

"It leaves a great deal of discretion to, in this case Feinberg, and ultimately to juries and judges in court cases."

The basic sentence idea is "It leaves a great deal of discretion to Feinberg and ultimately to juries and judges in court cases."  The dropped-in phrase SHOULD be "in this case."  The sentence should read as follows:

It leaves a great deal of discretion to, in this case, Feinberg and ultimately to juries and judges in court cases. 

I might play with the wording a little more for better clarity.  Separating TO and FEINBERG with the phrase "in this case" still creates awkward wording.    I would move "in this case" and then also move those earring commas.  Here is my best effort:

It leaves a great deal of discretion to Feinberg in this case and, ultimately, to juries and judges in court cases arising from the claims.


NOTE: James J. Kilpatrick, who died this week at the age of 89, is probably better known to some as the author of the syndicated political column "A Conservative View" and for his spirited exchanges with Shana Alexander on the "Point-Counterpoint" segment of CBS's "60 Minutes" in the 1970s.  I will remember him most for his long-running Sunday column "The Writer's Art" which offered up great examples of problems with grammar and usage.  Kilpatrick often called his "Court of Peeves, Crotchets and Irks" into session to poke clever fun at those who tangled up the English language.

I learned a great deal about writing style from those columns and often photocopied them to pass out to participants in my business writing workshops.  For many years, Kilpatrick did his best to improve the clarity of writing in America, and I will remember his efforts.


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5 Responses to “Use “Earring” Commas Correctly.”

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  3. […] I’m sure Kilpatrick wasn’t referring to elementary punctuation, as in “He said, ‘Hey, that pitcher’s great.’”  In my example, clarity is served by the use of both opening and closing commas — or, as writing coach/blogger Ruth Beaumont Cook cleverly calls them,  “earring commas.” […]

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