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Commas with quotes [duplicate]

I read the following sentence1: He rallied the Senate with the plea, “It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete.” I’m wondering whether a comma should be placed ...
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What does an italic “a” immediately before a year stand for?

Some citations in the OED have an italic a before the year to indicate the year is uncertain, for example: a​1556 N. Udall Ralph Roister Doister (?1566) iii. iv. sig. E.iijv, By gosse and for ...