A comma splice, that is.
The ad appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle last Sunday. It’s an opening salvo in Coca-Cola’s Live Positively campaign, an expensive-looking effort to convince us that Coke is all about healthy living and being “part of the fabric of our communities.”
So much money, so little proofreading.
Here’s my gripe: The second sentence in the headline is an example of a comma splice—also known as a run-on—in which the comma is called upon to do the work of a period.
Now, I know that a comma splice usually cobbles together two complete sentences, and I know that “Except fun” isn’t a complete sentence: it lacks a verb. Nevertheless, the comma here is just plain wrong. What’s called for is a period to lend emphasis and finality to the fragment: “Except fun. Try to have lots of that.”*
This isn’t merely about “rules.” It’s about effectiveness. The run-on headline is insipid; breaking it up with a period gives it a pulse. The energy builds up to fun, the most important word in the headline, instead of dribbling away in a fog of inconclusion.
It’s painful enough to see badly punctuated copywriting in small businesses’ ads. It hurts like a decayed tooth to see it from a major brand like Coca-Cola.
As penance, perhaps Coke would like to underwrite National Punctuation Day. It’s next Thursday, September 24.
UPDATE: Thanks to Twitter pal McGeesOrg for two timely links about comma splices: "Oh, the Splices You'll See!" on Stan Carey's blog, and "Comma Splices: How to Identify and Fix Them" on The Snarky Student's Guide to Grammar.
* Skilled writers know how to use sentence fragments like this one for drama or emphasis, or to answer a question. See this brief tutorial for examples of sentence fragments used for special effect.