I was waiting patiently in line to turn in my papers for a passport when I spotted this error.
At first, I thought, “Aww, how nice! The Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder is welcoming its newest member, Nancy A. Doty!”
At least that’s how this would be interpreted if someone with a particularly astute eye for punctuation rules were reading it.
You use a comma when you directly address someone. For example, If you’re calling your dearest friend to discuss gerunds, you might say, “Dearest friend, I revel in talking about gerunds!” Notice the comma that follows Dearest friend. Its job is to show that I am directly addressing my dearest friend, who is — of course — my dearest friend because she knows what gerunds are.
Now, let’s discuss why the above picture is problematic. You see, our friend, Nancy A. Doty, is not a new member; she is the Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder herself. So what we really have is an *appositive, which we need to set off by commas. We use commas with appositives when we rename nouns. Here is an example: My favourite band, Fleetwood Mac, appreciates that I try to use British spelling.
Fleetwood Mac is renaming my favorite band, so it gets set off by commas. I could take Fleetwood Mac out of the sentence, and it would still make perfect sense because, after all, I have only one favourite band.
The same logic applies to our erroneous picture. We need to put a comma after Recorder because that would close off the appositive. So the following sentence would correct the Arapahoe-County blunder: Nancy A Doty, Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder, welcomes you to Arapahoe County.
And I, Michelle Webb, rest my case.
*Click here for a helpful discussion of what an appositive actually is.