How old was John Bolton in ’61?

I love commas, but commas don’t solve every problem.

Is this a photo of Bolton at a 1961 event? You tell me. And tell me why, or why not.

To the writer of this caption, it was obvious, I think, that the invasion happened in 1961. But because of The New Yorker‘s fixation on using commas in every possible position, they have separated “the Bay of Pigs” from “in 1961.” If they had quietly omitted the comma, we would have clearly understood the meaning of “the Bay of Pigs in 1961.” The Bay of Pigs, after all, happened in 1961. This photo didn’t happen in 1961. But the comma might lead us to believe this is a 1961 photo. (The “Make Cuba Great Again” hat is a clue. But you shouldn’t need to search for clues in the photo in order to understand the caption.)

I revere The New Yorker. I read it religiously. I have subscribed for decades. But the comma fixation thing has to go. It’s not healthy. Too many commas will clog your editorial digestive tract.

5 thoughts on “How old was John Bolton in ’61?

  1. Speaking of clogging, here’s a puzzling tangent: everyone seems to jam in extra words that add bulk but not meaning. Even you: “But you shouldn’t need to search for clues in the photo in order to understand the caption.”

    Any idea why even the best publications (NYT, The Economist) clog up their message with “in order to” when a simple “to” will always do?

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    1. Good point. I think it’s because “to” can be interpreted so many different ways. In spoken conversation, it’s perfectly clear without the extra phrase. But in writing, “the photo to understand” can be misinterpreted as a phrase intended to hang together. In other words, you have to keep reading to be sure what word “to” connects back to. (Look! I didn’t say “keep reading in order to be sure”! Ladies and gentlemen, he CAN be taught!) I generally add “in order” if there’s any question.

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