Oxford Blues

Correct comma usage is harder to explain than football’s offside rule. Those of you who love visual learning will appreciate this animated TED-ed short that sheds light on the matter:

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 Diary of a Madman

Nick Cave writing lyrics.

I often seek to gain insight into the verbosity of my favourite writers. I’d read that Nick Cave’s love of language began at an early age so it pleased me to see pages from a tatty old journal that the songwriter, author and screenwriter kept as a young adult, one that duly screams ‘portrait of the artist as a morbid man’:

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Comma Karma

A friend once glibly reduced the role of a copy editor to someone who, “just checks spelling mistakes and stuff…”

Not one to wax on about work stress – many jobs require such technical and creative skill in equal measure – but as a copy editor, one must remain unruffled in the eye of any storm. There’s the constant hum of a deadline against an unrelenting clock, a lack of recognition among peers who write terribly, an end ‘result’ that’s open to interpretation… and all this while staying focused and compacting text into tiny boxes or, as a colleague once put it, “playing a frantic game of Tetris with words”. In today’s climate, with so many job descrips calling for ‘self publishers’, and writers who sub and upload work themselves often with catastrophic results, I tend to find myself questioning my past choices.

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Timely, then, that a piece came along to reaffirm my love of commas set in their rightful place. The New Yorker‘s grande dame of copy editing, Mary Norris, wrote a paean to wordsmithery, entitled Between You & Me – Confessions of a Comma Queen (W.W. Norton & Company / out May 2015). Charting her career beginnings, moving on to a humbling tale of a 1960s firebrand eking out a career in a male-dominated industry – this book legitimises the potent and perpetual urge to thumb through that AP Stylebook as if your life depends on it. Thanks Mary.

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