Wednesday, August 4, 2010


My sister and I have issues. There's something very wrong with us. Over, probably, the last six months it has come out that I am woman's right to choose-serial comma and she's very pro-serial comma life. It's a dangerous combination. And after I revamped my "About Biddy" section she re-stoked the fires with this little comment on my last post:

And um, just saw in your about me that you don't believe in the serial comma. And you don't like wearing fleece and alarm clocks. So, do you like wearing each of them separately and it's just the combination that you're opposed to? Seriously. Embrace the comma. It's needed. Obviously.

I give her props because that gave me a real giggle...but still. I'm stickin to my guns. Oh, let me back it up: for the normal kids out there who don't fight over punctuation, the serial comma (or the Oxford comma) is the comma used right before "and" in a list or series.

Ex. My blog contains snark, deprecation -> , <- and judgments out the wahzoo.

Now, I come from the school of the AP Style Guide. Communications, and what not. You know, what makes the world go round. It states that unless it's needed for dire clarification, the serial comma's not necessary.

Ex. My blog contains snark, deprecation and judgments out the wahzoo.

Still makes sense, doesn't it? Yep. Sister doesn't tend to agree. She's thrown out the good ol' Wikipedia Ayn Rand example once or twice: (book inscription) "To my parents, Ayn Rand and God." Now, a normal person would think, "Oh, she's thanking her folks, the Atlas Shrugged chick and God. That's nice. Generic. But nice. Well, Ayn Rand is a little randar, but whatev."

On the other hand, someone of lesser thinking powers would read that sentence to say: "Wow. She's thanking her parents who are Ayn Rand and God. Her family vacays must've been a hoot. How does the daughter of God get punished anyway? Turn into a pillar of salt? Vicious."

And so now I bring to you a real life conversation between Sister and me. ("Me." Not "I." Because it's the object of the preposition "between." If I were on the Bachelor I would've said "I." Because the producers say it makes you sound all fancy-like. And the tan, white-toothed boy digs the fancy-like.)

Sister to our father:

So, Mellie and I are having a debate. She is anti the serial comma and I think it's absolutely necessary. Your thoughts?

PS Hope you're having a nice day! And yes, your children are big dorks who debate the importance of commas. :-)

Father to Sister:

Butu Biscuit,

Use of the serial comma prevents any possible ambiguity, as would arise in the following sentence if the serial comma were omitted (i.e., the girl’s parents are not the president and vice-president):

She took a photograph of her parents, the president, and the vice-president.

Most stylistic authorities, including the formidable Chicago Manual of Style, recommend using the serial comma. For the sake of clarity, so do I.

Hope you two dorks are having a good day.
Love you!


Sister to Sister (me):

HA! I win!

Sister (me) to Sister:

Well I am a rebel. And follow AP style. And feel like a 2nd grader when I use it. And feel like I'm being spoon-fed when I see it. Fine. If there are several internal conjunctions, I might consider using it. But more often than not, I'll re-write my sentence for clarity's sake. Serial commas give you an excuse to be lazy and complacent in your first drafts.

Strive for excellence; lose the comma!

Sister (me) to Sister: (still in a grammatical rage)

By the way, I can't believe you brought our government-editing father into this. Of course he's going to side with you. If he were a journalist or copywriter he'd tell you to go screw your Oxford comma.

Another personal belief: The serial comma is the conservative of punctuation world and hangs out with the losers, forward slash and caret. Its absence is the liberal and hangs with the cool kids, em dash and semicolon.

And there we have it. The life of a couple of really cool chicks. Just needed to share.


Sara R. said...

I am vehemently opposed to the serial comma unless it seems necessary.

You win.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little insulted that I, the director of the Writing Center, was not included in this very distinguished discussion of the serial comma. Of course, had I been included, I, too, would have suggested that omitting the comma often causes confusion and should, therefore, be used. How did we raise you that you have so violently left the principles we value so highly? Oh, woe is me. They told me that my child would turn on me in the end.
Yore ma

Katie said...

Go Mama Jo! Ba ha! Apparently mom and dad gave all their brain power to me. :-)

Mellie said...

You all should really stop encouraging each other. You've worked yourselves into a snooty grammatical frenzy, and I. Don't. Like it.