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Comma Commies

Over the years, I've encountered a lot of people who have strong opinions on the serial comma. They expect me to have a strong opinion, too. And I do. Here it is: I very, very emphatically don't give a hairy rodent. Use it, don't use it, fight to the death for either side. Go nuts. But I won't be taking up arms in that battle.

Quick refresher: the serial comma, also called the Oxford comma, is the comma before the "and" in: "red, white, and blue."

The Chicago Manual of Style, which is followed by most book editors, advocates the serial comma. The Associated Press Stylebook, which many newspapers follow, says not to use it. Per them, it's: "red, white and blue."

Academic types say the serial comma is more correct. (It's true that the AP position is a minority one.) And I think it's just lovely that people have the time and energy to care. Me, I have to WORK with both styles. It's all I can do to remember from one document to the next which style I'm supposed to be following.

It sure would be easier on me if the major style guides would agree on this. But I really couldn't care less whether they went pro-serial comma or anti. As long as I gets paid. (Actually, that's a whole other can of worms. The company for which I do most of my copy editing these days is all over the news for their darling little Chapter 11 stunt -- and they're four weeks behind in paying me! And I'm supposed to care about commas? Woid.)

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I see some confusion without the last comma.

June, you're my kind of teacher. On your true-false test questions, both true and false are correct.

Suppose an instruction is given in a will: to be shared equally between Joe, Sally and Leo. Would Joe get half or a third? If I were Joe, my attorney would demand that I get half.

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Hmmm ...

I don't really see much chance of confusion on the Joe, Sally and Leo example. If it said Joe, AND Sally and Leo, that would be different.

But "Joe, Sally" cannot be construed as a complete list. You need an "and" to complete a list and therefore that particular comma is irrelevant.

And I'm totally not a grammar anarchist. I'm just constantly exposed to what I consider to be bad grammar priorities.

Serial commas: Not a priority.

Grasping the concept of danglers and subordination: Huge priority.

Class dismissed.