Merrill Perlman* has a nice piece in the Columbia Journalism Review** about a supposed gaffe Joe Biden made earlier this year during the primaries, when he was quoted as saying “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”
That quote may be missing a comma. Perlman doesn’t delve in the politics of it, or try to plumb Biden’s intentions, and I won’t either. But she goes into some detail about restrictive vs. nonrestrictive clauses, and how something as small as a single comma can significantly change meaning, and have broad-reaching repercussions. If you care about the power of language and punctuation**, it’s worth reading.
* Whom I had the pleasure of hearing speak about copy editing last month. Great talk.
** Where I worked for a while in the late nineties.
*** And I know you do.