You Can’t Possibly Understand the Genius of Hamilton Until You Understand “Comma Sexting”

Decoding one of the musical’s nerdiest lyrics
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There are a few things that I hate: Camping, that weird skin that forms on soup and gravy, people who wear tennis shoes with nylons, bees (see: camping). But there is only one thing I loathe, and that is bad grammar. Which is partially why I fell in love with Hamilton.

It was announced that key members of the original cast would be leaving the show, so I’ve been mourning by listening to all 46 tracks noooooon-stop (had to). In the song “Take a Break,” composer/genius Lin-Manuel Miranda dedicates 24 seconds to what he calls “comma sexting,” which is a cool way of referring to a nerdy punctuation rule. Why insert an obscure grammatical construct into a hip-hop musical about the nation’s first Treasury Secretary? Because it’s Lin’s world, and we’re all just living in it.

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If, like me, you’ve listened to Hamilton more times than you’ve showered in recent months, then you already know which lyric I’m talking about. For the philistines, allow me to explain. Throughout “Take a Break,” Alexander Hamilton is pen-paling it up with his sister-in-law, Angelica Schuyler, with whom he has a pseudo-secret romantic relationship. Then things get 1700s-era saucy. Angelica sings,

“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 said, ‘My dearest, Angelica,” with a comma after dearest. You’ve written, ‘My dearest, Angelica…’”

So here’s what it means. Writing “My dearest Angelica” with no comma after dearest is simply a form of address—something Hamilton might say to anyone (think: my dearest Eliza, my dearest Maria, my dearest Angelica). Not a super sexy sentiment. But “My dearest, Angelica” (all together now—with a comma after “dearest”) indicates that out of everyone Hamilton knows, only one person—in this case, Angelica—is dearest to him, turning the address into a term of endearment. Angelica is confused about the comma placement because Hamilton is married to her sister, which means we’re basically analyzing an 18th Century version of The Bachelor.

There it is. Go forth and use this new knowledge to impress people at parties—or just to improve your sext life.

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