Expulsion point

You may remember this from a couple of summers ago. The original has gone 404, so the link comes back here:

When I first began working here, only one of the four writers in my department consistently used the serial comma. The other three would accept my edits when I imposed it onto their writing, but they kept sending me drafts in which it was omitted.

So I decided to make evangelizing the serial comma my personal mission. I explained to them why the serial comma was the superior choice for clarity. I wrote the classic “To my parents, Ayn Rand and God” example on their whiteboards to demonstrate why omitting it was confusing. I complained about how I can’t tell how many items are in a list if I’m unfamiliar with the terms and they don’t use the serial comma.

The serial comma was also referred to as the “Oxford comma,” but even Oxford is disowning it:

As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write ‘a, b and c’ not ‘a, b, and c’. But when a comma would assist in the meaning of the sentence or helps to resolve ambiguity, it can be used — especially where one of the items in the list is already joined by ‘and’: They had a choice between croissants, bacon and eggs, and muesli.

I suppose it’s better than Spam, egg, sausage and Spam.

The following dialogue took place on the original poster’s Facebook page:

O.P.:  They can have my Oxford/serial comma when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Wiseguy (not I):  You mean cold, dead, hands?

O.P.:  No, it would have to be something like cold, dead, and pedantic hands.

Holy position reversal, Batmanglij!

(Vampire Weekend’s original commentary on the subject.)


  1. fillyjonk »

    1 July 2011 · 9:29 am

    Someone I follow on Twitter noted that they could take her Oxford comma when they pried them from her cold, dead, and clenched hands.

    I’ve used a similar example to the one you gave, only I substituted “Marilyn Manson,” for “God,” because (a) I forgot where I read the original and what it said exactly and (b) “I thank my parents, Ayn Rand and Marilyn Manson” seemed appropriately ridiculous and surreal.

    I will continue to use the Oxford comma except in places where someone expressly tells me I cannot (Journal editors can be SO picky.)

  2. stixx23 »

    1 July 2011 · 10:21 am

    I’m anti-serial comma and pro-two spaces after a period.

  3. CGHill »

    1 July 2011 · 10:45 am

    HTML has issues with the latter practice.

  4. fillyjonk »

    1 July 2011 · 11:42 am

    It took me a long time to adapt to not leaving two spaces after the end-of-sentence punctuation, but that seems to be something journal editors REALLY frown on.

    (I like writing. It’s the formatting I hate.)

  5. Nicole »

    1 July 2011 · 2:20 pm

    In the example given it makes sense to put in the serial comma.

    Personally, I do not like using the serial comma unless the additional clarity is needed. In my work we list materials quite frequently in paragraph format rather than in list format and I always remove the serial comma when I am entering or editing the notes. “At Contractor’s discretion woven wire fabric, dog spleens or horse glue may be used in place of reinforcing steel, pin stays and steel struts.” In a case like this, I don’t see the need for another comma. I don’t consider it wrong to use one, my OCD lil’ brain just prefers to not use one. :)

  6. CGHill »

    1 July 2011 · 2:32 pm

    For some reason, this called up a MechaHorrible vision: “Remember, pin stays, but steel struts.” Cut to image of strutting steel.

    Yes, I have been up too long. Why do you ask?

  7. McGehee »

    1 July 2011 · 4:07 pm

    I guess I’m a little situational — especially since I’ve been trying on late to eliminate superfluous comma usage.

    Then again, I’m posting this using Firefox for Linux on a computer that has neither Firefox nor Linux installed (the wonders of “cloud” computing!) simply because I wanted a way to edit OpenOffice files on my iPhone (which I’m not using to do this). So I should expect people to regard me as a bit odd…

  8. McGehee »

    1 July 2011 · 4:08 pm

    And I’ll blame the browser/OS oddity for my spelling “of” with an N.

  9. fillyjonk »

    3 July 2011 · 3:46 pm

    Charles, is “Steel” Leonardo di Caprio’s new nickname?

  10. CGHill »

    3 July 2011 · 4:03 pm

    I wouldn’t put it past him, so to speak.

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