December 12th, 2013

Obama and Castro: together again

Who would have thought a single comma—or lack thereof—would make such a difference?:

Britain’s Sky News posted this bulletin about the Nelson Mandela memorial service at 6:36 p.m. London time Tuesday: “Top stories: World leaders at Mandela tribute, Obama-Castro handshake and same-sex marriage date set.”

The British have a habit of eliminating the final comma in any list of elements separated by commas, the one right before the “and.” I have never liked this usage, which seems precious, pedantic, and needlessly confusing. Why should I write that previous sentence “precious, pedantic and needlessly confusing”? I’m generous (dare I say “liberal”?) with my commas—the more the merrier!

11 Responses to “Obama and Castro: together again”

  1. Sgt. Mom Says:

    I was strictly trained in old-school editing by my business partner. (We joke that she has been married three times – twice to mere mortals and once to The Chicago Manual of Style.) I always kind of thought the final comma before ‘and’ was a little unnecessary (even as she insisted on it!), but the serial comma convention was instituted precisely for lists like this.
    I tend to overuse commas, otherwise. Once, when she was editing one of my books, she joked about wanting to use the litter of excised commas piling up on the floor around her feet as a necklace, if they could be collected and strung together.

  2. Ymarsakar Says:

    Bookworm wrote a post about this. She called it the Oxford comma.

  3. rickl Says:

    Yeah, I’m a big comma user, and I certainly would have used one before the “and”.

    In fact, I just did.

  4. parker Says:

    “Obama-Castro handshake and same-sex marriage date set.”

    While there might be a bit of sympathy for Michelle and the kids, the MSM would gush over a Barry-Raul marriage. Nancy Pelosi could be the bridesmaid and Chris Matthews could be the flower girl.

  5. blert Says:

    The Chicago gay scene has contended that such a marriage ought to be a true bromance.

    They certainly have plenty in common.

  6. rickl Says:

    Wait a minute. How do we know the Sky News story wasn’t accurate as written?

  7. Ymarsakar Says:

    Because Michelle is the pants in the house judging by the photo.

  8. Beverly Says:

    Rush said today that the real reason Hussein hastened to shake Raul’s hand is that the Obama Administration has been negotiating in secret with Cuba over the past six months.

    Most Transparent Administration Evah!

    And, most definitely, DO use the serial comma: it prevents the mistaken junction of the final two terms in a series (case in point above).

  9. Jim Miller Says:

    American newspapers, including the NYT, often skip that final comma, too.

    (I think it is better to use it consistently, than to spend time thinking about whether it might confuse people.)

  10. expat Says:

    I am a stickler for commas and hyphens and for correct which/that and fewer/less usage. I edited scientific papers for years, and believe me, when you get sentences that are 10 lines long, you need the Oxford comma.

  11. I Heart Serial Commas Says:

    Dedicated to my parents, Mother Teresa and the Pope.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.


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