If you haven't read this post yet, go back and read it. I'll wait. All caught up? Okay, today's topic in YOU DECIDE!!!™ is...
The Harvard Comma!
So. This is one of those "what the fuck, I learned this in elementary school and now they're changing it...uh, fucking why" rules that I mentioned in the prologue to this short series. Basically, here's the deal: when you're making a list you should use a comma between every item in that list to indicate that it's part of the list and not part of the greater sentence. For instance:
This blog post sucks, blows, and makes no sense.
It's pretty basic, and one of the few comma rules that don't amount to, "Uh, I don't know, wherever you would fucking take a pause for breath if you were speaking this sentence out loud." Now, apparently, though, the serial (or Oxford, or Harvard, or, I don't know, fucking MIT) comma has fallen into disfavor because it's supposedly unnecessary. So, for instance, if you're starting a list, and you're using commas for the first couple of items anyway, everyone already gets that you're making a list so there's strictly no need for you to use just that last comma. So our example sentence becomes:
This blog post sucks, blows and makes no sense.
Which is fine, I guess, for what it is, but I'm confused about the value in avoiding use of the serial comma. Is there a severe comma shortage in our country today? Are they like fossil fuels and we only have so many of them before they're all used up? Because if it's a matter of preserving our precious commas, then I don't see why we don't just make the sentence:
This blog post sucks blows and makes no sense.
Why use commas at all in lists if we're not going to use the serial comma?
To play the devil's advocate for the other side (I'm afraid I've betrayed my loyalty to the Harvard comma far too early to continue to pretend to be impartial) I suppose they'd say that there are compound words that could get screwed up if you don't use those first few commas. For instance:
We had turkey bacon ham and pickles laid out for the sandwiches.
We had turkey bacon, ham and pickles laid out for the sandwiches.
We had turkey, bacon, ham and pickles laid out for the sandwiches.
Which leads us into the whole placement issue. Presumably, in any case where you have hours to slavishly consider whether to use a serial comma or not, for instance if you were a professional writer who doesn't believe in deadlines (I'm looking at you George R.R. Martin and the late Douglas Adams) you could solve all of the problems that the serial comma solves with its mere existence (ahem!) by simply rearranging your list. So with or without a serial comma you could simply clarify this list by making it:
We had turkey, pickles, bacon and ham laid out for the sandwiches.
Thus the favorite bugaboos of serial comma pimpers such as myself are all relegated to the shithouse. For instance, this sentence seems to call out for a serial comma:
President Roosevelt invited the assholes, Stalin and Churchill.
So, to clarify, if we don't wish to imply that our fellow Allies are asshole we should say:
President Roosevelt invited the assholes, Stalin, and Churchill.
However, the anti-serial comma crowd would be quick to point out that the same problem could be solved thusly:
President Roosevelt invited Stalin, the assholes and Churchill.
You know, come to think of it, I think I've represented both sides of this case pretty well at this point. I've certainly represented the anti-Harvard crowd far better than I initially thought I would. Which leads me to ask you, the readers, to tell me what you think in the comments.
Serial commas: Yea or Nay?
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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