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View Full Version : Who stole my COMMAS?!



Shwebb
01-23-2006, 02:16 AM
I had an essay printed in the Charleston Gazette today, and the only thing that was edited were my commas. Specifically, they took out the last comma in my list of items. They did this twice.

For example:

"She would create her own creocheted lace tablecloths, bedspreads and doilies."

or

"He sculpted his orchards with patience, pruning and caring for his apple, cherry and pear trees."

Shouldn't there be a comma after "bedspreads" and after "cherry?" (After all, she didn't make a combination "bedspread and doily" and he didn't have a cherry-and-apple" tree--they were two different trees.

I've been noticing this trend when I read blogs and some news items. Am I wrong? Are we dealing with comma use backlash and are now into some sort of punctuation minimalism?

Are my grammar and punctuation skills hopelessly out-of-date?
I'd love to know.

MacAllister
01-23-2006, 02:20 AM
They edited out your Harvard comma (http://www.trulydonovan.com/wordworks/oxfordcomma.htm)!

They are obviously Philistines.

William Haskins
01-23-2006, 02:23 AM
i've always preferred the serial comma, but it's a matter of much snootiness for some editors.

congratulations of having your piece published.

maestrowork
01-23-2006, 02:34 AM
They executed your serial comma without giving it a pardon from the Governor...

Shwebb
01-23-2006, 02:36 AM
Thank you, Mac--I was never taught that one had a choice of having/not having it.

Personally, I think leaving the comma in the sentence makes more sense. I'd leave it out only if the last item in my list is a combination of two things. I think it's funny that a West Virginia newspaper has to put on airs.

Thank you kindly, Haskins. (If anyone is interested in reading a mediocre essay, you can go here: http://www.wvgazette.com/section/Columns/200601191. I think you have to sign in to see it, but signing in is free.)

I may be mediocre, but my grammar, spelling, and punctuation are usually pretty decent. I think I might have a chance to improve the other.

Ray: :ROFL:

Unique
01-23-2006, 02:41 AM
They edited out your Harvard comma (http://www.trulydonovan.com/wordworks/oxfordcomma.htm)!

They are obviously Philistines.

Yeah, what she said.
You're all right with me, Shwebbie. That's one comma that was drilled into me waaaaayyy back in 4th grade.

You're right; they're wrong.:e2tongue:

blacbird
01-23-2006, 03:27 AM
Shouldn't there be a comma after "bedspreads" and after "cherry?"

Actually no. This is a matter of alternative punctuation, with either way being correct. But even forty-odd years ago, when I was in grade school, it was standard practice not to place a comma before the "and" in an item series. The logic being you wouldn't put a comma in if there were only two items. I also think it's very standard practice for newspaper styles.

caw.

MacAllister
01-23-2006, 03:36 AM
The serial comma is one of those things writers and editors can argue about over drinks, long into the bleary wee hours.

I'm a fan of the serial comma. I think it's usually just much more precise--consider the famous example, "To my parents, Ayn Rand and God."

It does seem to be primarily a journalism thing to not use that final comma in the series.

Optimus
01-23-2006, 03:38 AM
Strunk and White say to keep it in and that's what I've always been taught, too.

mkcbunny
01-23-2006, 03:42 AM
Long live the serial comma. No room for confusion. And I notice when it's missing ... everywhere. Makes me batty. The great thing about being in a position to write a style guide for a publication is that you get to make all of these choices. I was fortunate to be able to do that once, and it felt good, really good.

poetinahat
01-23-2006, 03:44 AM
*chiming in*

I say it stays, too.

And congratulations. It's good to hear that there are still actual gazettes out there.

veinglory
01-23-2006, 03:44 AM
Around here it's called the Oxford comma and consider refined but non-standard.

maestrowork
01-23-2006, 05:06 AM
With the comma, the meaning is very clear. Without the comma, it can be murky:

My favorite holiday involves beaches, flowers and a bed and breakfast.

September skies
01-23-2006, 05:22 AM
When I started writing for the newspaper, they told me they never have a comma before an "and".


That was one of the hard things I had to get used to. (That, and only one space between sentences.)

I spent all my school-age years adding two spaces after a sentence and including those commas -- and now suddenly they were telling me not to.
Now, when I am looking over my children's essays and such (giving them the once over) I tend to circle their extra commas and they'll look at me and remind me that even though I don't use them, their teachers do and will deduct points if they remove them. Odd. And, if their sentence ends in a parenthesis, the period goes (outside for them). (inside for newspaper.)

Shwebb
01-23-2006, 06:13 AM
I would try to blame the discrepancies for the downfall of our children's English education, but that would mean our school children actually read the newspaper in the first place.

I guess I thought comma placement should be a little more cut-and-dried than this.

Incidentally, I wondered if this particular newspaper is owned by a conglomerate. (It does happen to be the largest newspaper in West Virginia, but I guess that's probably not saying a lot. Circulation is between 200,000-300,000 for Sundays.) But it's not--it's still locally owned and run; it's a family business.

It did strike me that my previous post was a little bit of a put-down, and it shouldn't have been. Hey, they took my work and they paid me, and they are actually a great newspaper--despite the fact that they accepted my essay! :)

But, yeah, I'm a believer in the serial comma.

You can take away my commas, but you can't change my opinion on their usage so easily. But these things are nice to know when (if) I submit somewhere else. Thanks!

veinglory
01-23-2006, 06:16 AM
I think omitting the comma is rarely ambiguous. After all if the other meaning we intended
"My favorite holiday involves beaches, flowers and a bed and breakfast."
would actually be
"My favorite holiday involves beaches, flowers, a bed and breakfast."

Unique
01-23-2006, 06:21 AM
For most people it wouldn't be ambiguous, but that was Ray's sentence.

In that case, it probably goes like this: My favorite holiday involves beaches, (flowers and a bed) and breakfast.

reph
01-23-2006, 06:24 AM
The series comma isn't right or wrong; it's a choice. Newspapers generally don't use it, that's all. Academic publishers do.


And, if their sentence ends in a parenthesis, the period goes (outside for them). (inside for newspaper.)
Properly, the order of the paren and the period depends on whether the parenthetical material is part of the larger sentence.

Sometimes you want to put part of a sentence in parens (in which case you'd do it like this). Other times, the enclosed material is an independent statement, and you'd enclose the whole sentence, including its period or other end punctuation. (Enclosed material may even be more than one sentence. This is an example, isn't it? Yes!)

veinglory
01-23-2006, 06:36 AM
Even academic journal seem split on this one, but it's like many debates, one space after the period or two etc...

Julie Worth
01-23-2006, 06:43 AM
House rules, don't worry about it.

maestrowork
01-23-2006, 07:46 AM
When I started writing for the newspaper, they told me they never have a comma before an "and".


It seems like the newspapers (in Shwebb's case, too) like to follow the AP manual of style and I'll bet they suggest no comma before the "and." I'll have to dig up my copy of the AP style guide and double check.

poetinahat
01-23-2006, 07:47 AM
It seems like the newspapers (in Shwebb's case, too) like to follow the AP manual of style and I'll bet they suggest no comma before the "and." I'll have to dig up my copy of the AP style guide and double check.
Thanks, Ray.

Pick up that style guide, double check, and get back to us.

:)

(I know it's optional; I like it.)

maestrowork
01-23-2006, 07:49 AM
For most people it wouldn't be ambiguous, but that was Ray's sentence.

In that case, it probably goes like this: My favorite holiday involves beaches, (flowers and a bed) and breakfast.

Right, for all we know, it could have been:

beaches, flowers, a bed, and breakfast

or

beaches, flowers and a bed, and breakfast

or

beaches, flowers, a bed and breakfast


That's why I say without last comma it can be ambiguous.

mkcbunny
01-23-2006, 11:27 AM
AP votes against the serial comma. Doesn't mean they're right.

September skies
01-23-2006, 11:37 AM
I think omitting the comma is rarely ambiguous. After all if the other meaning we intended
"My favorite holiday involves beaches, flowers and a bed and breakfast."
would actually be
"My favorite holiday involves beaches, flowers, a bed and breakfast."

In this case, it would be:

My favorite holiday involves beaches, flowers, and a bed and breakfast.

(newspapers do allow a comma before an and if there is a second and in the last part.)



Properly, the order of the paren and the period depends on whether the parenthetical material is part of the larger sentence.

You're right.

Old Hack
01-23-2006, 02:28 PM
When I was editing I had to edit books for the USA from within the UK. We referred to the Chicago Manual for punctuation rules etc. The protocol we followed was to omit the comma for books which were to be published only in the UK, and to include it for USA books.

Quote marks also varied country to country: in the UK, commas or full stops went outside or inside quotes depending on context while for USA books punctuation was always placed within the qotes.

Books which were to be published in both the USA and the UK followed US protocols so that the majority of the readers would be satisfied.

Now I have a headache and need to lie down.

arrowqueen
01-24-2006, 02:22 AM
I have a big, silver pepper-pot full of punctuation marks. Once I've finished my work, I just sprinkle them on.

reph
01-24-2006, 02:45 AM
I have a big, silver pepper-pot full of punctuation marks. Once I've finished my work, I just sprinkle them on.
I think I've seen your writing.

pconsidine
01-24-2006, 02:50 AM
For what it's worth, most of the AP style rules are due to the specific problems of typesetting for newspapers (line breaks, space limitations, etc.). The serial comma bit the dust to save on characters that the typesetters had to set. Another oddity of AP style is a space before and after an ellipsis. It allows the line to break there instead of reading the whole thing as a single word and thereby forcing some really bad line breaks.

It may be different, but it's not arbitrary.

Shwebb
01-24-2006, 02:53 AM
Oh, that makes sense!

pconsidine
01-24-2006, 02:58 AM
Ayep. What really stinks is that one of my earliest jobs was at a magainze that used AP style, so I became used to editing by AP style. Now I'm totally out of step with the rest of the writing community.

That whole ellipsis thing still throws me. And dashes. They put spaces before and after em dashes, too.