Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Smackdown!: Serial killers vs. serial commas

This story seems to be going viral, so let me just add: Amen. Also, since I'll be busy-busy the next few days, I'll rerun this entry from Nov. 3 of last year.

PhotobucketSerial killers

WHO?: Insane people who, to paraphrase an old Lay's commercial, can't kill just one.

PROS: Umm ... they cull the herd?

CONS: Crazy. Stabbingy. Shooty. Poisony.

PhotobucketSerial commas

WHAT?: That comma used between the last two items in a series of three or more. In "A, B, and C," it's the comma between "B" and "and."

PROS: In complicated sentences, can help avoid confusion.

CONS: I've got nothing.

WINNER: I know people who hate the serial comma. At least once a year, I have to defend its use in the pages of our magazine. "We don't like it! This other magazine I'm pointing to right now doesn't use it!" a few editors will say. That's all they've got. "It can add clarity in complex sentences--and we often use complex, tech-heavy sentences," I inevitably point out. And we keep using it.

Also, when I was a lowly editorial assistant at William Morrow, a novelist once a wrote a note to his editor: "I loathe the serial comma."

Really? I envy the leisure time you use to develop loathing for helpful punctuation. Perhaps you could use that time for something more useful--say, extra whacking-off time.

This is just a long way of crowning the serial comma the winner of this Smackdown! You kick serial-killer butt, dude. The forces of copyediting darkness will have to pry you out of my cold, dead sentences.

1 comment:

Graceful Space said...

Hear, hear! Why do people still suggest--or even insist on--arbitrarily eliminating something so useful? Not only does omitting it cause needless confusion, in many sentences doing so completely changes the meaning. "We went dancing, drinking, and driving" is a fun evening. "We went dancing, drinking and driving" is a felony.