In praise of the serial comma

Grammar Nazis have been biting their thumbs at one another over this seemingly menial argument regarding the finicky serial comma. The writers over at AP Style, the journalist’s bible, will change their minds every few years to tell you, “Hey, the serial comma was so last year,” or, “No, no. We proudly stick by the serial comma and it’s one of the most stalwart of syntactical and grammatical pieces of evidence we have within a sentence to delineate between disparate objects commonly conjoined in a series.”

So, what do you do? Do you use a serial comma to separate every object in a series within a sentence? Or, do you leave the last one off, as most advertising and marketing agencies suggest?

The serial comma

According to Business Insider, the serial (or Oxford) comma is perfunctory and superfluous. Those in favor of the serial comma attest that using it reduces ambiguity.

For example, if you were making your own sandwich containing three ingredients, would you separate all three with commas or would you lump the last two together. See below:

“I’ve just made a grape jelly, peanut butter, and kiwi sandwich.”

Or

“I’ve just made a grape jelly, peanut butter and kiwi sandwich.”

Sure, the average skim reader would fly over that sentence without batting an eye. However, someone who is habitually employing their use of marginalia to ensure the next reader of a book picks up on the same grammatical errors as he/she has, would flinch at the latter example.

To the highly imaginative, one might visualize a peanut butter and kiwi sandwich with grape jelly added to it. As if peanut butter and kiwi sandwiches are a normal snack to consume.

The first example, you’ll see, separates each and every ingredient in the sandwich so that it is clear that this particular snack is comprised of three different ingredients that one would never stumble upon in cahoots in nature, but in just this one case, we are bringing them together in perfect harmony, via a late-night bite.

Here is another example:

“We found a duck, a quarter, and a banana peel on our walk through the park.”

Or

“We found a duck, a quarter and a banana peel on our walk through the park.”

Which would make more sense to you? Would you, perhaps, reread that last sentence a couple of times to make sure those talking a walk in this fictional drama didn’t happen upon a quarter of a banana peel as opposed to finding a quarter and a banana peel? I, myself, might visualize an image of the former, unless this were a line in a poem, in which case I would read that with reduced speed, as all poetry should be taken in slowly with a cup of tea.

Well, there you have it. This w3rdn3rd argues in favor of the serial comma, not only to reduce ambiguity, but to allow the true imagery of a piece of shine forth through the third eye of the mind whilst reading without enlisting the help of the reader to take the time to discern whether peanut butter and kiwi sandwiches are quite possibly something they eat, regularly, over in Australia or some other foreign territory.

Until next time!

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