A few years ago, Robert Samuelson lamented the declining use of the comma, suggesting that its abandonment was a metaphor for the impatience of modern life.
He’s right, I think, and even more so today. Like Samuelson, I think commas add clarity to writing and, sometimes, create just the right pace for a sentence. The elimination of a comma can transform the meaning of a piece of writing so immensely that you have to wonder what people are thinking (or not thinking) when they eliminate or avoid commas willy-nilly. (Remember the $2 million comma?)
I thought about Samuelson’s lament this week when the email message above landed in my inbox. Video lessons from 1920? Someone was really pitching me video lessons from 1920?
No, I found. What the message meant was that the company had 1,920 videos available.
You could argue that I read things too literally (you wouldn’t be the first) and that the addition of commas to numbers in the thousands is essentially a matter of style.
And yet, as in this case, a term so cries out for punctuation that it simply can’t be left alone, style or not.
So here’s to the difference between 1920 and 1,920. May clarity reign.
Oh, and if you’re still curious about 1920 videos, I’d suggest checking out Harold Lloyd. You simply can’t go wrong, no matter how you punctuate.