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So I'm going through The Elements of Style Workbook, and I'm on a section where they give us a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson written as follows:

What must I do, is all that concerns me, not what the people think.

My question is just this: isn't the first comma erroneous? It would make sense as a parenthetical comma if you reversed the last two clauses:

What must I do, not what people think, is all the concerns me.

But as it stands that common seems wrong and throws me off. If it's not erroneous, what is this type of comma called? Or is just expressing the way he spoke it, or perhaps an artifact from an outdated writing style?

  • It's one appositive followed by another. It's just that the style is somewhat poetic. – Jason Bassford Nov 24 '19 at 6:05
  • @RayButterworth I've fixed it for them, and also put the quotes in quote markup. – F1Krazy Nov 24 '19 at 14:57
  • all punctuation is a matter of style; and style changes over the years – Arm the good guys in America Dec 4 '19 at 6:09
  • @JasonBassfordSupportsMonica, what are the two appositives? I only see the subject "What must I do", its predicate "is all that concerns me" and the parenthetical clause "not what people think". – HeWhoMustBeNamed Jan 1 at 18:09
  • Yeah I'm pretty sure that is not an appositive followed by another – danglingPointer Jan 4 at 8:15
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Superfluous in modern usage. Not correct now but was fine then.

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  • 2
    Welcome to Writing.SE! Could you expand on this? Why was it considered "fine" then, and why is that no longer the case? What changed? – F1Krazy Nov 25 '19 at 14:10
  • @F1Krazy, "Why is that no longer the case? What changed?" -- How is this relevant to answering the question? – HeWhoMustBeNamed Jan 1 at 18:05

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