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January072007

Death to the Death of Serial Commas!

Filed under: Little Words   Tagged:

The continued existence of people like this is literally what makes me go on living.

Comments

I adore the serial comma. It’s right up there with the semi-colon.

The only time I ever notice serial commas, funnily enough, is when they’re missing!!!! And they often are! Anyone who’s every translated anything knows their value, and loves them like one loves good manners.

Is the justification for “literally”, that E.G. is a person “like this” ? Dizzying roundabout.

It doesn’t take much to be one, though. If the world were suddenly emptied of people who cared enough about language and punctuation to investigate its strange little rules, I would find it much harder to live in. So when such people make themselves known, I’m bolstered, gladdened, and revived.

finally, people who understand! i work for a website that does not use the serial comma and each day it hurts a little more.

my high school english teacher, whom i revered, loathed the serial comma and banned it from his classroom, and i wrote that way all my life … until i interned with a book publisher and had to retrain myself to follow the house rules, which insisted upon the serial comma. now when i read a sentence that excludes it, i actually get a little confused and usually have to go back and read it again. i can’t imagine writing without it now. it’s funny how quickly our brains can reprogram themselves to take offense at something previously unnoticeable.

I beg your pardon. I was taught by Benedictine nuns (They of the steel ridged rulers)that you use that comma only when you are listing four or more items in the sentence. Three items do not rate the comma. I think they spoke from a higher authority than those heretical style books.

Ronzoni RigatoniJanuary 10, 2007

well, that just doesn’t make any sense. so the nuns would have you write “red, orange, yellow, and green,” but then insist upon “red, orange and yellow”? heresy or not, if they couldn’t even teach you how to properly hyphenate a phrasal adjective …

i kid; i’m sure they were clever, pious ladies. but i reserve the right to question any and all authority.

Sorry, I was just being picky about usage of “literally”.

As well you should be! But I meant it literally. I meant (in that self-dramatizing moment, at least) that I would consider ending it all if I thought no one in the world but me cared about commas.

This is an issue rather dear to my heart, as I delight in the minutia of usage. My somewhat fuller (and critical) comments can be found here:

http://brutus.wordpress.com/2007/01/11/peccadilloes-of-prose-punctuation/

Thanks for noticing my blog. It’s not only the death — or dearth — of the serial comma that is annoying. It is perhaps even more so the crazy inconsistency within one novel or article.

I never knew whether or not to use the serial comma (except in obvious, laughable cases like “my parents, Mother Teresa and the Pope”) so what I usually do is say it out loud. If there’s a pause, there’s a comma; no pause, no comma. I don’t think of the comma as being part of syntax, but just a hint to the reader-out-loud that maybe it’s time to pause to catch a breath. If the usage is inconsistent even within a single document, who cares? I speak with a larnyx, not a vocoder.

The thing I do mechanically, like a structure in a line of computer code, is to make possessives out of plurals with an additional apostrophe-s. I never see anyone else writing “the surveyors’s transits” but I just don’t care. My authority on this is older editions of Strunk & White. Well that’s what I tell carping critics, but to tell you the truth I don’t really feel any need for an authority; it’s my language and I’ll type it any old way I like.

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