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January 17, 2012

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Excessive? Of course! It's the New Yorker style. Louis Menand admits as much in a 2003 article:

"Whatever you do, incidentally, do not look for guidance in the pages of The New Yorker, where house style requires quotation marks for book titles and the insertion of commas in places where other periodicals don’t even have places."

http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2003/10/06/031006crbo_books1#ixzz1jjhC7DUa

I kept hearing .."I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America... & to the Republic, for which it stands.. "

Let's try this:
The first is a memorable figure by any standard: the elder Netanyahu, Bibi’s now hundred-and-one-year-old father, Benzion. Over years of research, Benzion has established—at least to his own satisfaction—that the idea of a flourishing clandestine community of Iberian Marranos, who paid lip service to Christian rites and rituals while secretly remaining Jews, is a myth. He claims they were invented by the Inquisition for its own evil ends and taken up much later by the Jews, in the hope that it would make their ancestors seem less fearful and more resistant.
Now we're down to only six commas, but two em dashes and two periods are added. Still, that's a net loss of three punctuation marks!

Besides the pair flanking "much later," the one between "father" and "Benzion" looks dispensable to me, though probably not the one after "Benzion."

@Rootlesscosmo: You need both commas around "Benzion" because it's a nonrestrictive appositive--that is, Benzion is Bibi's only father. To say "his father Benzion, who..." implies that Bibi has multiple fathers, and we're talking only about Benzion here.

My source is CMoS, 16th ed., 6.23, "Commas with Appositives." The usage is nonrestrictive because the word between the commas--in this case, Benzion--can be omitted "without obscuring the identity of the noun to which it refers."

@Steve Hall: Nice work!

@JohnO: Love that Menand piece!

I would take out the commas you would, Nancy, but aside from that, it's an admirably lucid sentence; I didn't lose the thread at any point. (But then, I'm a Henry James fan.)
And though I use (and perhaps overuse) em dashes, there's always the danger they'll be too abrupt and dramatic for the context -- as possibly here.

Trying to sound like William Shatner?

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