So, GrammarBoy, the blue-pencil mavens in my shop think you’re grammatically as muddle-headed as Ann Coulter, and self-righteously pedantic to boot. That’s bad news when you’re wrong – makes you look like a complete fool. Commas, GB, commas – that’s what the “which” clause requires.I'm puzzled, PixWeasel, at exactly what it is you suppose me to have gotten wrong. I think it's because I supplied an example of a nonrestrictive clause employing which without setting it off with commas. Otherwise, I hunt in vain for an actual point in your comment.
(We’re going with the Chicago Manual of Style FAQ, “Which vs. That”: “The basic rule: Use ‘which’ plus commas to set off nonrestrictive clauses; use ‘that’ to introduce a restrictive clause.” Your example doesn’t follow the exception the CMOS notes for writers of British English, either.)
My comma-less example was taken directly from Words Into Type (Third Edition, p. 378), if you want to play Dueling Styleguides. The absence of commas in the example is deliberate, to clarify the rule of thumb (their phrase), which is that "when a comma can be inserted, the word is which." I suggest you take up the choice of the phrase "rule of thumb" with that book's editors.
Tell me: what would your ink-stained wretches do with Franklin Roosevelt's phrase "a day which will live in infamy"? Strike FDR's which and replace it with that? I believe the Chicago Manual would insist on it, and that's the point I was implying: That hidebound copy editors insist on the application of Rules as if they were Laws -- frequently to the detriment of lively and perfectly comprehensible writing. "A day, which will live in infamy" is simply absurd; "A day that will live in infamy" is absolutely unchanged in meaning from FDR's original.
You've said nothing that undermines my central point: that Coulter's criticism of that anonymous web site for linguistic elitism was itself incorrect (she would definitely have edited FDR's phrase), and that she was trying to score gratuitous points by twitting their grammar. This is sleazy rhetoric -- not to mention, a really cheap shot.
I think your blue-pencil crowd will enjoy Mark Liberman's Language Log post, which Don Porges brought to our attention. The Executive Summary (emphases mine):
...[T]he prohibition against using which to introduce integrated relative clauses is a made-up "rule", unsanctioned by the usage of good writers in any era. Still, I think that there's a germ of sociolinguistic truth in Coulter's theory -- "which hunting" is a favorite sport of down-market American copy editors,[oooh, take that, boys and girls] so that the rate of which in integrated relatives is lower in American journalism than it is in British journalism. As a result, integrated which may indeed have an elitist flavor for those American readers who have noticed the difference.The Language Log post also provides copious examples of sentences from Coulter's demigod Ronald Reagan employing which in exactly the way you claim is incorrect in my example.
Five more thoughts on the that rule (Arnold Zwicky, 5/22/2005)
What I currently know about which and that (Arnold Zwicky, 5/10/2005)
The people from the CCGW are here to see you (Arnold Zwicky, 5/7/2005)
Don't do this at home, kiddies! (Arnold Zwicky, 5/3/2005)
Which vs. that: integration gradation (Mark Liberman, 9/23/2004)
Which vs that: a test of faith (Mark Liberman, 9/20/2004) ("Copy-editors' strictures against using which in integrated relatives are an invention -- what in ordinary life we would call a lie -- with no basis in the facts of the English language. Specifically, that is no longer used in supplementary relatives; but in integrated relatives, both which and that continue to be in common use by all the best writers, as has been true for centuries.")
Which vs. that: I have numbers (Geoff Pullum, 9/19/2004)
Sidney Goldberg on NYT grammar: zero for three (Geoff Pullum, 9/17/2004)