A Comma for the Working Man, and Other News


On the Shelf


  • This world is full of pointless suffering and unending torment … but at least we’ve got the serial comma. Grammarians are fond of saying things like “the comma improves our way of life” and “proper punctuation is money in the bank”; normally they’re full of shit, but today they’re onto something. As Elena Cresci writes, “In a judgment that will delight Oxford comma enthusiasts everywhere, a U.S. court of appeals sided with delivery drivers for Oakhurst Dairy because the lack of a comma made part of Maine’s overtime laws too ambiguous … The state’s law says the following activities do not count for overtime pay: ‘The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of (1) agricultural produce; (2) meat and fish products; and (3) perishable foods.’ The drivers argued, due to a lack of a comma between ‘packing for shipment’ and ‘or distribution,’ the law refers to the single activity of ‘packing,’ not to ‘packing’ and ‘distribution’ as two separate activities. As the drivers distribute—but do not pack—the goods, this would make them eligible for overtime pay.”
  • Rhyme schemers: Anthony Madrid urges you to take the easy way out. “There was nothing wrong in 1592, and there is nothing wrong in 2017, with using the same rhyme pairs over and over and over,” he writes: “You can call {sing|spring} a “rhyme cliché” if you want, but that attitude leads to flushing six sevenths of world literature down the toilet … We have all encountered persons who triumphantly cite the fact that nothing rhymes with orange. It is always orange they point to. Never scissors, never morgue, never geode. Never any of the other thousands of words that have no rhyme partner. Because: the orangists have given the matter no thought. They are quoting. As they always are. The more interesting phenomenon from the researcher’s point of view is the case of rhyme pairs like {fountain|mountain}, where each of the words has a rhyme, but only one. Where either mountain or fountain appears in rhyme position, the other is literally inevitable. Likewise with {only|lonely}. Likewise with {culture|vulture}. And others. There is no essential and inescapable semantic link between the words in those rhyme pairs. Yet, there is, to be sure, an inescapable link.”

  • There’s not much to be said in defense of the Internet, but there is this: it helps you find people who can answer your most ridiculous questions. The blog Stump the Bookseller is especially great at this; it exists to “reconnect people to the books they love but can’t quite remember.” Alice Gregory recommends it: “Part puzzle, part civic-minded project, the blog is run by the owner and staff of Loganberry Books, a bookstore near Cleveland, and is updated weekly with a cache of up to ten entries. Some posts read like dream-journal entries, others like desperate postings on medical message boards. They are descriptive, urgent, mystifying. A boy befriends a floating ball from outer space. A Portuguese brooch is lost in a Cape Cod cranberry bog. A girl—‘strange and a little disgusting’—cleans her toenails with a borrowed barrette. There is a dwarf who wears a gold ring as a belt; a newt who may or may not be named Reddy; a girl in tap shoes who bakes a chicken. Stump the Bookseller, which has existed in various forms for more than two decades, claims to have a ‘nearly 50 percent success rate in finding these long-lost but treasured books.’ ”