When Did Bourdain Lose Touch with Commas?

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain is my favorite writer these days, bar none, but what’s up with his punctuation?

I’m thrilled he’s regularly blogging about his new season of No Reservations, giving us his behind-the-scenes perspective on things. Those posts read like rough first drafts, pounded out on the fly, never to be reread, edited, or even proofed. I’m OK with that. They sound like he’s talking directly to you. Even on his worst days – with perhaps a raging hangover – his innate wit enables him to express himself more vividly than most people.

But in Envy, his latest post about his visit to Spain, I couldn’t help noticing some commas deliberately, glaringly, in inappropriate places. I quote:

An interesting visual, phenomonen occurred during the editing of the Spain show.

Understand: Albert, along with his brother, Ferran, is a chef/owner of the three Michelin starred El Bulli, the hardest to reserve, restaurant table in the world.

A jarring, flood of endorphins, then brain overload, and for a second, a blinding light.

And if I wanted to get nitpicky, I could rag on his peculiar misuse of semicolons:

Suffice to say that just about anywhere in the world of fine dining, from Shanghai to San Francisco; when Albert walks in the door, the whole place goes on Red Alert.

But let’s not go there.

These aren’t bold stylistic quirks, but rookie boo-boos that typically make writers wince with embarrassment if they get published.

It’s got me wondering if we’ve ever seen Bourdain’s true technical competence as a writer in his books, or if some devoted editor with a stake in boosting his literary career has been making his work look much more polished than it ever really was.

16 Responses to When Did Bourdain Lose Touch with Commas?

  1. nick says:

    Yeah I love that guy…its prob just the years of heroin and total debauchery all coming back…commas are the first thing it affects…

  2. LisaLisa says:

    Yes, how very strange that the comma’s don’t make any sense, none whatsoever. There is no natural pause, or even a list. Why, commas, are you there?

  3. catsworking says:

    Whenever I engage in total debauchery, the first thing that goes is my spelling. Words that I’ve known for years suddenly start looking wrong to me and I have to look them up in the dickshonary. (Uh, oh, I think it’s happening again!)

  4. bob says:

    Come on yes he is a word smith, has been for many years.
    But thats not the point now is it.

    A dropped comma or a dangling participle is not going to get in his way when he gives us the unfettered detritus of his life.

    Hell most websites are not updated like this one. And we get his thoughts. Not Facebook bullshit.

    Cut the man some slack, hes probably kicking back in his apt in NYC with a wife and a baby running around by the time he posts these anyways.

    Thats fair for a few missed commas.

    Give my best to the kittys

  5. Adele says:


    You’re right about the commas, although I thought the punctuation got better toward the end of the entry. Perhaps reliving the trip to Spain, when he watched the show last night, caused Tony to write in a rush. It was a great show, though snark-free; I loved the obvious affection Tony had for the owners of Arzak — btw, one gets a very brief, partial (a comma does go between brief and partial;doesn’t it?) glimpse of Ottavia, sitting at the kitchen table of Arzak at the end of the show. I’m longing to go to Spain.

    Alice sends her best to Adele, Fred and Yul.

  6. catsworking says:

    Bob, any writer who has produced as many words as Bourdain can do certain things in his/her sleep, and punctuating is one of them. Rather than attributing it to “kicking back” and being totally relaxed, I suspect it was more a matter of typing under the influence — of something. If you look at the whole post, it’s kind of a mess. Granted, it’s in his unmistakable voice that we all love, so he gets to coast on quality. Call it substance over form.

    Adele, I just watched the Spain episode last night and caught that glimpse of Ottavia myself. Got some thoughts on that as well. Stay tuned…

    Adele, Fred and Yul are chomping at the bit for their turn to blog again.

    (And yes, you can put a comma between “brief, partial.” A good way to tell is to replace the comma with the word “and.” If “and” would make sense there, then a comma is appropriate. Now go back and try that on Tony’s sentences. That’s my point.)

  7. MorganLF says:

    I’ve sorta held back on this discussion cause commas mystify me as do apostrophies (plural possessives make me weep like a little girl). Answer is simple:he was wanting the content to be posted in a timely fashion while enjoying a wind-down cocktail or three… He is great at posting the guy is a fountain of words and thoughts there are 700 posts out there on e-gullet for chrissakes! Where does he get the time? The only time I post is when I’m f’ing off at work. 😀

  8. catsworking says:

    Interesting point, Morgan. I just read somewhere that employers believe Tuesday is their employees’ most productive day.

    Without fail, Tuesday is the day Cats Working gets the most hits. Employers need to wake up. Workers glued to their computers and pounding keyboards are making their contribution to the blogosphere, not the bottom line.

  9. petunia says:

    In Tony’s defense, I am usually a stickler for punctuation and spelling but somehow when I am typing a post or response on the computer, I transpose letters, make spelling errors, put in extra commas or semi-colons–I think it just might be the nature of posting online. (I had to make about five corrections in this one alone!) And you won’t correct things if you’re in a hurry–plus you don’t have all that extra help that you get on Word for spelling and grammar…

  10. catsworking says:

    I’m sure Bourdain’s Travel Channel blog isn’t a freebie. He’s a well-paid professional writer (pulling in $1.5 million a year, so we’re told), so there’s no excuse for putting half-ass work out there just because it’s “only” the Internet. He’s writing for his employer, not for his own amusement.

    Petunia, I agree with you about working on computers. I make a lot of mistakes myself, but I’m also a professional writer and I do my best to clean them up before I click “Publish” because I don’t want my readers to ever think my credibility or accuracy are questionable because of careless errors.

    Sometimes I’ll be surfing old posts here, and if I notice any mistakes I correct them immediately, even if the work is months old. Each post, whether written by me or the cats, gets thoroughly edited numerous times and double-checked before it’s released. Sometimes it’s exhausting work. And we DO do it for free.

    But that’s what “real” writers who respect their readers do.

    First Bourdain has gone all nice and mellow on us. Now he’s writing like a drunk. He seems to be on a slippery slope to oblivion and I’m worried.

  11. Daniel says:

    Win, lose, or draw, that Envy blog piece he wrote is a great piece of writing. Copy editors can be hired. Great writers must be born. Just saying…

  12. catsworking says:

    Agreed, Daniel. No debate that the man’s thoughts are often brilliant, even if it does turn out that he cut a lot of his English classes at Vassar.

  13. Adele says:

    The comma thing got me interested (clearly I spend waaaay too much time at the computer), so I went back and re-read several of Tony’s previous blogs. I was an English major, though admittedly not the greatest proof reader in the world, and the punctuation in theEnvy blog seems to have been somewhat of an aberration. I tried to pay attention, and Tony (or his editor) seems to generally have a better than average knowledge of punctuation. Maybe the Ariane was having a bad day when he wrote Envy, and he was distracted, or maybe he had over indulged in something. In any case, I loved what he had to say about Spain.

  14. catsworking says:

    I agree that his post Envy was an aberration. If Bourdain wrote this sloppily all the time, I wouldn’t have read and loved all his books. I think the only one I haven’t read is “Typhoid Mary.”

    Maybe someone will tell him it’s not such a good idea to drink and blog.

  15. Bob says:

    Typhoid Mary is a very good read.

    Enjoyed it very much

  16. nick says:

    Yeah Typhoid is insanely awesome. First time someones written about her in the sense that she was prob just a pissed off chef stuck in small hot as hell kitchens not making shit for money.

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