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My dearest, Angelica

Why Hamilton’s comma put me on the edge of my seat

Hamilton Musical

By Adrian K. Cohn, Smartling's Director of Brand Strategy and Communications

Wait a minute. Is that a typo or romance? Grammatical error or finesse? Why did Hamilton use a comma between “My dearest” and “Angelica” when writing to his sister in law?

Language is powerful; but so, too, is grammar. In its most basic form, grammar provides us with the framework to put words together in ways that enable us to communicate effectively. We use punctuation to aid sentence structure; to tell a story in ways that elicit emotion.

There are many reasons to see Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway musical, "Hamilton." It’s an incredibly special performance that had everyone bobbing their heads the entire two and a half hour show, which displays the best of lyrics, rap, staging, lighting, and costume.

On Broadway, however, expectations can be defied. Out of all the poetic verses, the story of a letter sent by Alexander Hamilton to Angelica Schuyler, as told in "Take a Break," caught my attention more so than any other moment during the show.

In a letter I received from you two weeks ago
I noticed a comma in the middle of a phrase
It changed the meaning, did you intend this?
One stroke and you've consumed my waking days, it says
"My dearest Angelica"
With a comma after dearest, you've written
"My dearest, Angelica"

As portrayed in Miranda’s musical, Angelica yields to her sister Eliza’s immediate bond to Hamilton, putting her own emotions aside - sort of. Angelica was clearly taken by the comma.

This verse is a celebration of language, grammar and punctuation. It proves, for me, how powerful language and all its elements can be. It validates the emotional range of humanity - and it reminds me of a key tenant of Smartling’s manifesto - to be rich in meaning.

The comma is not a typo nor a grammatical error. This is romance and finesse at its finest. In today’s digital age, where short-form conversations prevail, it isn’t unusual for people to look at a message once, twice, three times - trying to decode what the other is saying, or what is not being said.

I also can’t help but think about the implication of such decisions when it comes to language translation. Punctuation is critical to translation - it’s why Smartling has automatic grammar and punctuation quality check tools that will reject strings that do not follow grammar rules. The emotional reaction Hamilton is going for here is complex, and if translated would require skilled translators to get it just right.

What do you think? Was the comma an accidental stroke of Hamilton’s quill, or was he subtlety communicating a level of deep affection to his dearest, Angelica? Respond to my comment on LinkedIn - I’m eager to hear your thoughts!

P.S. speaking of quill...

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