It’s the Serial Comma Wars

Comma Butterfly marking

The serial comma has made not one, but two appearances in my life today.

First there’s Brian A. Klems’ Questions and Quandaries column on the necessity of the serial comma. Then, less than an hour later, I come across a link to the Los Angeles Times Books column about the same subject.

Klems’ column does note that as a Writer’s Digest editor he must think in terms of the printed word and length of a work must be considered. Understood. But don’t we all keep talking about the digital future of publishing? The implication being that the printed word will be used less in the future, which makes the whole argument to dump the serial comma for the sake of saving ink/paper/shipping costs mostly moot!

If my piece is 80,000-100,000 words long, how will dropping  60-75 commas (and I think that’s probably a high estimate)  reduce any of the cost issues other than ink. To make a paper and shipping costs savings argument valid it would have to be shown that the addition of those commas caused an extra page to be printed. Hardly plausible given that they would most likely be scattered throughout the work.

The LA Times column is in regards to a misquote about whether the Oxford University Press was dropping its use of the serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma in some circles) but then adds in a bit about the Shatner comma, and, its, slowing, effect, on, flow.

May I just stand up now and admit to the assembled group, I am a serial comma user. We seem to be a dying breed. Well so be it! I hate reading things and having to re-read them to make sure I have understood the passage.

So please, on behalf of readers everywhere, please take a moment to add in a serial comma. Thank you. I will now get off my soapbox.


Filed under Writing, writing fiction

2 responses to “It’s the Serial Comma Wars

  1. I’m a serial comma user too! At least sometimes. Contrary to popular belief, though, it doesn’t guarantee against ambiguity, and can even make things worse. But normally it clarifies, and the ink/length argument never made much sense to me.

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