If your week has been ruined because this blog post is not about the ’80s hit “Karma Chameleon,” by the Culture Club, let me be perfectly honest: I’m worried about you. Get help.
No, this post is about what is by far the most common mistake I see in published material: books, newspapers, magazines – you name it. (Strangely, I’ve never seen this mistake, to be outlined below, made by graffiti taggers; maybe they’re smarter than we think.)
What is wrong in the following sentences?
• She purchased a cheap, denim coat.
• They toured a dank, British castle.
• He was a savvy, first-string quarterback.
There should be no commas in all three.
Don’t think so? Try substituting every comma in the preceding sentences with the word “and.”
• She purchased a cheap and fur coat.
• They toured a dank and medieval castle.
• He was a savvy and first-string quarterback.
These sound goofy because in every sentence, each use of the word “and” should be eliminated. In the same fashion, the commas should also be nixed.
Why? Although the words “fur,” “medieval” and “first-string” are normally used as adjectives, in the preceding examples they’re actually used as nouns.
The nouns in these examples are not “coat,” “castle” and “quarterback.” They’re actually “denim coat,” “British castle” and “first-string quarterback.”
Another way of looking at this: The quarterback in the third sentence is not savvy and first-string; rather, “first-string quarterback” (the noun) is savvy (the only adjective).
Here are four more examples. All of the commas in red should be deleted.
• The Rolling Stones performed at a famous, iconic, open-air theater.
• The Raiders drafted a powerful, fast, intelligent, outside linebacker.
• Times hired several experienced, freelance writers.
• Phil Mickelson is a rich, famous, talented, friendly, professional golfer
If you keep your mental radar pointed in this direction, you’ll see this mistake in professionally edited material on a regular, if not daily, basis. Just don’t do it yourself.