The Comma Queen Will See You, Now

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With guest host Jane Clayson.

They call her the Comma Queen. Lessons on life and language with the New Yorker’s ultimate grammar editor, Mary Norris.

Some standard copy editing marks on an essay. (Aaron Brown / Flickr)
Some standard copy editing marks on an essay. (Aaron Brown / Flickr)

Subject. Verb. Object. What’s so hard about that? But the English language, our grammar rules, our punctuation, the endless guidelines and exceptions have been giving school children nightmares since the first edition of the Merriam Webster dictionary was published in 1828. “That” vs. “Which”. “Me” vs. “I”. Luckily, Mary Norris, a top level copy editor at the New Yorker, has spent her life worrying about dangling participles, the Oxford comma, and what’s next in the dangerous days of texting and twitter. This hour, On Point: the New Yorker’s Comma Queen on life and grammar.
-- Jane Clayson


Mary Norris, copy editor at the New Yorker. Author of the new book, "Between You & Me: Confessions Of A Comma Queen." (@marynorristny)

Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst. (@JackBeattyNPR)

From The Reading List

New Yorker: Holy Writ — "The comma as we know it was invented by Aldo Manuzio, a printer working in Venice, circa 1500. It was intended to prevent confusion by separating things. In the Greek, komma means 'something cut off,' a segment. (Aldo was printing Greek classics during the High Renaissance. The comma was a Renaissance invention.) As the comma proliferated, it started generating confusion."
The Baltimore Sun: A celebrity from the copy desk — "Ms. Norris knows that in the popular perception, a copy editor is 'a bit of a witch.' 'Not long ago,' she writes, 'a young editorial assistant getting her first tour of The New Yorker offices paused at my door to be introduced, and when she heard I was a copy editor she jumped back, as if I might poke her with a red-hot hyphen or force-feed her a pound of commas.'"
Christian Science Monitor: New Yorker copy editor Mary Norris's 'Between You and Me' has 'wit, sass, and smarts' — "Most readers perhaps wouldn’t use the word 'fun' when describing a guide to grammar and punctuation. But the book 'Between You and Me' by New Yorker copy editor Mary Norris (subtitle: 'Confessions of a Comma Queen') is not only earning positive reviews, it’s being praised for being accessible and enjoyable to read."


Read An Excerpt Of "Between You & Me" By Mary Norris

This program aired on April 6, 2015.


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