Serialism

2007-10-27

I've long been a fan, advocate, and proponent of the serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma). It seems eminently sensible to me that each item in a list deserves to be separated from the others by a comma (as in "fan, advocate, and proponent"). In fact, the first text of mine ever published was a letter I wrote to William Safire on the topic (it can be found on page 63 of his book You Could Look It Up, New York Times Books, 1988, though I wrote it some years before that):

Dash it all! The dash may be running away with itself, but folks are running away from the comma. You write that "the comma, the parentheses and the dash" are the tools of insertion. Right there in that sentence, you -- even you! -- neglect the comma: there should be a comma between "parentheses" and "and." Or is the-parentheses-and-the-dash, as it were, one tool of insertion? Whatever the source of this error, it is rampant, and spreading like wildfire. It may even be too late for individual actions to have an effect, but if anyone can stem the tide, it is you. Defend the comma!

Peter Saint-André
Readfield, Maine

Speaking of persnickety punctuation, these days I would say:

...there should be a comma between "parentheses" and "and".

Why? Well, "." was not a part of the original quote (which was "the comma, the parentheses and the dash" and not "the comma, the parentheses and. the dash"). I suppose I've learned this from writing Internet protocol specifications, in which the inclusion of a stray period could lead implementors astray. The Brits do it this way too, but they use single quotes where we Yanks use double quotes (and vice-versa).

So yes, my personal punctuation style is idiosyncratic. But hey, it seems more logical to me this way. And since I am self-publishing, I don't have to care about AP style or the Chicago Manual or any of those so-called experts. Perhaps I'm just an orthographical individualist. :)


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal