Friday, March 02, 2007

Manhattan Serial-Comma Mystery Probed

Score one for us, The Serial Commakazies.

Yes, we of The Loyal Order of Serial Comma Orderliness and Logic (TLOSCOL) can take solace and comfort from this sentence in The New York Times, today, March 2, 2007, anno Domini, page A1, from the lead story, no less (the lead story is the one in the upper-right column in the ancient style of reading newspapers made of paper, which is my preference):

[hautboys, as they say in Shakespeare]

"A series of disclosures published prominently in The Washington Post about the living conditions, the red tape that ensnarled treatment, and other serious problems have challenged the notion promoted for years by the Army -- especially since the war in Iraq -- that wounded soldiers receive unparalleled care at Walter Reed."

Take a deep breath after that mouthful, eh? Imagine diagramming that one in Mrs. Rivers's seventh-grade English class! (I've just got to do a post on her one of these days.)

Well, this is delicious on several levels. First, the Gray Lady is forced in its lead story to pay homage to its stalwart competitor, The Washington Post. And, as if that ain't bad enough, the sentence, written by David S. Cloud, is brightened by my beloved serial comma. Can you spot it? Yes, it elegantly and clearly and brazenly shines after the word "treatment." (I will dodge the grammatical debate that might ensue over whether it should be "A series . . . has . . . .")

A tantalizing mystery presents itself: is the serial comma grudgingly allowed by a copy editor because it is simply too confusing without it? If so, a victory for us (just one battle, not the war), who have claimed all along that is why we insist on this punctuation mark. Or is it an error or oversight on the part of writer and copy editor? In other words, will they be slapped for not following The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage?

Or, is this a tidal turning point in the culture wars, symbolized by an awkward embrace of the serial comma?

Will we ever know?

Will Manhattan media watchers and gossipmongers, such as at, be able to get to the foggy bottom of this persnickety puzzlement?

"No comma," is not, um, an acceptable answer.

(You just don't get sizzling stuff like this on YouTube.)


Meloncutter said...

I have gone through probably 25 boxes of Alpha-Bits and still ain't found one single cereal comma.

I think we are getting ripped off.

Later Y'all

monicker said...

Arg, more commas!

I have to admit, though - I have been known to use the serial comma to prevent mass confusion.

But only rarely.