Wednesday, December 15, 2010

when in doubt, commatate

When I've got nothing else to say, I can always fall back on my old standby, the serial comma.

Having recently been in Philadelphia, I saw this December 5, 2010, headline (actually, a subheading; maybe there's another term) on the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer:

"A year after The Inquirer revealed the crisis in city courts, judges and the district attorney have brought about far-reaching reforms."

There's nothing wrong with that sentence, nothing at all. I'm serious. BUT. BUT the prevailing absence of the serial comma sets up the modern reader (you) to be confused. You are led to expect that the phrasing is part of this construction:

"...city courts, judges [typically omitted serial comma] and the district attorney..."

But it's not.

If the NORM was the serial comma, you would never be lulled into thinking that, because you would expect that such a construction would have to be like this:

"...city courts, judges, and the district attorney..."

But as you read that perfectly correct sentence at the top, you tend to pause and get confused ONLY because of the persistence of those who do NOT use the serial comma.

Confused?

I'll walk you through this "offline" in the comments box if need be.

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