or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Two Wrongs

As quoted by fragrance blog Now Smell This, a rather thoughtless usage reported in Women's Wear Daily:

John Varvatos will launch Vintage, a seasonal variation on his first scent, in late summer. It is...

...described as having a "darker and [more] gentlemanly-like" feel than the first...

"Gentlemanly-like"? Oh, brother. That's one adjectival suffix too many, because "-ly" means "like"--that's where it came from. "Gentlemanly" would have been fine, and even "gentleman-like" would have passed muster. But stacking them? They might as well have said "gentleman-esque-ish".


Look at this sentence from an article in Slate.com:

He did so this week at the trial of the two former NYPD detectives accused of selling secrets to—and committing murders for—Lucchese family underboss, Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso.

Oh, mischievous little comma! What are you doing in that sentence?

An appositive is a descriptive noun or noun clause which immediately precedes or follows the subject. When the appositive precedes the subject and is limited by an article ("the" or "a") or some stand-in for an article ("those", "one", "my"), you separate the subject out with pair of commas (replacing the second comma with a period if the subject falls at the end of the sentence), if and only if the appositive refers to a unique subject. "My pet goldfish Sparky has fin rot" means I could have more fish; "My pet goldfish, Sparky, has blue lips" means I have only one (and apparently will soon have none).

"The Luccese family underboss, Anthony 'Gaspipe' Cazzo, had sushi for lunch" is correct if there's only one underboss; the commas make the appositive restrictive. "The Luccese family underboss Anthony 'Gaspipe' Cazzo is out walking his cat" means that there may be more than one underboss; it's non-restrictive.

"Luccese family underboss Anthony 'Gaspipe' Cazzo is taking a computer literacy course" is correct because we don't know if there's more than one--we have no article or other specifier, so the appositive is automatically non-restrictive. In this third case, we can't use commas, no matter what. No article, no commas, ever; they always walk hand in hand. It's the rule.

The "positive" in "appositive", by the way, doesn't really mean what it looks as if it might mean. It's more akin to "position"; an appositive is positioned next to the noun. (They're both from Latin "ponere", "to place", though.)


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