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In a park in the Latvian capital Riga, a small group of protesters gathers, all Russian, some wearing paper hats inscribed with the word "Alien".

Latvian police carry out a small, bureaucratic piece of harassment. With a tape, and much officiousness, they measure the distance between the demonstrators and the nearest public building, a school on the other side of the road.

The protest is two metres too close, so the police move it a little further down the path.

The protesters don't mind. They are there to object to a much greater injustice.
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Look at the third sentence of the above.

With a tape, and much officiousness, they measure the distance between the ..........

What is the meaning of the commas? They are meaningless.

Now look at the fourth sentence of the above.
The protest is two metres too close, so the police move it a little further down the path.
What is the meaning of the comma. I wouldn't write it.

Your thoughts, please.
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Hello

I feel the author is using commas rightly.
With a tape, and much officiousness, they measure the distance.
If you say "With a tape and a scale, they measure the distance", you need not a comma btw 'a tape' and 'a scale', because the two items are similar in quality. On the other hand 'a tape' and 'officiousness' are totally different in nature. If I were the author, I would say even "With a tape, and with much officiousness, they measure the distance."
The protest is two metres too close, so the police move it
This ', so' is 'and consequently'. Here the comma is a MUST.

paco
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Hello Andrei

I would agree with Paco that commas are permissible in your first example.

This is an example of syllepsis: both 'tape' and 'officiousness', though different in kind, are governed by 'with'.

Commas are often inserted for rhetorical rather than grammatical reasons, to control the tempo by forcing the reader to pause. In your example, there are several acceptable possibilities:

1. With a tape, and much officiousness, they measure the distance between...
2. With a tape and much officiousness, they measure the distance between...

#1 puts more emphasis on the syllepsis: it's like winking when you make a joke.

#2 passes over it speedily: it's like making a joke deliberately quickly, so that its effect is doubled, when your audience catches on.

You could also say:

3. With a tape – and much officiousness – they measure the distance between...
4. With a tape (and much officiousness) they measure the distance between...

#3 has an effect of slight disapproval of the officiousness, to my ears.

#4 has an effect of slightly humorous indulgence.

In each case, the tempo is different; which means the emphasis is different.

If you take out the commas completely, on the other hand:

5. With a tape and much officiousness they measure the distance...

you have an effect of breathlessness. Usually you would not want such an effect; except perhaps in a fictive dialogue.

MrP
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Comments  
paco

You mention about the consequence here.

There were about 5 bananas on the table.

I eat all the bananas, which were on the table, when I came home; because I was famished.

When one sentence follows the other, we write a semicolon. I haven't learnt to write a comma.

However,I can't take in your point in the following sentence. Could you tell more on your answer?
The protest is two metres too close, so the police move it
Hello

(1) I was tired ; so I went home early.
(2) I was tired, so I went home early.

I don't know whether (1) is wrong or correct, but I usually write the way as (2).

paco
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 MrPedantic's reply was promoted to an answer.
Sorry, Andrei, I forgot your additional question.

In this example:

1. The protest is two metres too close, so the police move it a little further down the path.

you would again have an uncomfortably 'breathless' effect, if you took out the comma.

If you replaced it with a semi-colon, on the other hand, you would lengthen the pause:

2. The protest is two metres too close; so the police move it a little further down the path.

You might want to lengthen a pause if you wanted the reader to dwell on the subject matter of the preceding clause, for instance. In #2, however, there would be little point in using a semi-colon.

(I should add that the practice of putting a semi-colon where a comma would suffice is more common in writing of a mannered or stylistically self-conscious kind. It can sound a little strange in everyday English.)

MrP