Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Comma Is Key to Angelica

In case you thought there weren't any songs about the importance of commas, let me introduce you to a section of the song "Take a Break" from Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical Hamilton.

Part of the lyrics are based on letters between Alexander Hamilton and his sister-in-law, Angelica Schuyler Church, who lived in France and England over many of the years they were related. The two of them were very fond of each other, possibly more than fond, and the musical toys with this possibility throughout. In the song version of Angelica's letter to Alexander, she wrote:

In a letter I received from you two weeks ago
I noticed a comma in the middle of a phrase
It changed the meaning. Did you intend this?
One stroke and you’ve consumed my waking days
It says:

“My dearest, Angelica”

With a comma after “dearest.” You’ve written

“My dearest, Angelica.”
The presence or absence of that restricting comma changes the meaning of the salutation from a general address in the conventional form to a specific endearment. Whether she was teasing him with her response, or expressing her true feelings, no one can know.

So not only does Hamilton school the audience on history (in somewhat adapted form to make a better story), it also hints at a grammar lesson that might cause a few people to look into commas.

No comments: