Sunder Not the Comma Couplets
Commas are not what I would consider an ignored and disdained mark of punctuation. Mistreated, yes, but not ignored.
The manner of their mistreatment often takes the form of using one when only two will do, thereby depriving an undeserving comma of its working mate. They don't always come in pairs, of course—notice the one in this sentence. Those are the easy commas, the single-crowd commas.
You get pairs when, to set off a clauseDependent, in this case such as this one, you place a comma at either end. What often happens instead, after duly observing the first, is that for reasons that escape me the second is eschewed.
The ironic thing about some of these clauses is that they could exist without any comma at all, as in: The boys, whose turn it was to row the boatY'know, I'm not honestly certain about this, but I think this is an independent clause, as it can be turned into "It was whose turn to row the boat", which clause can stand on its own and is thus independent, exchanged embittered glances.
The boys whose turn it was to row the boat exchanged embittered glances.
In cases such as the one above it can work both ways, either with commas setting off the independent clause, or without commas. It does not work with one. And it does not always work with no commas. Why?
In the next example, the noun clause, like the one above, further describes the subject. However, the clause in the next example is dependent, containing only a subject without a verb, and thus unable to stand alone or without the assistance of commas, one at each side, like a pair of adoring niecesJust waiting for the old coot
to pop off. .
This example is torn and bleeding fresh from the page:
Terry Semel, the co-chief executive of old-media giant Warner turned Yahoo into a media and content company fit for the internet age.
Warner turned Yahoo into what? Ugh. Patience, don't fail me now. Does that blithering absence trip you up? Of course you must know what the fixHere is the fix not:
'Terry Semel the co-chief executive of old-media giant Warner turned Yahoo into a media and content company fit for the internet age.'
And here it is:
'Terry Semel, the co-chief executive of old-media giant Warner, turned Yahoo into a media and content company fit for the internet age.'
The missing-comma syndrome is often seen in introductions: Dr. Strangelude, king of the tarpaulin dancersDependent—subject but no verb, refused the offer of immunity.
In cases such as the above, the second comma is often omitted: Dr. Strangelude, king of the tarpaulin dancers refused the offer of immunity.
I can even hear the lack of a second comma in the speech inflections of radio and television news people—because the pause-inducing comma is absent, they speak the sentence with one unpaired pause. This is I think an unusual example of speech inflections following [bad] punctuation, rather than correct punctuation reflecting speech.
Once again, to end on the right (correct but please not proper) note, and lest anyone remain confused, here is the way not to sunder comma couples: Dr. Strangelude, king of the tarpaulin dancers, refused the offer of immunity.