Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Comma Commies

Over the years, I've encountered a lot of people who have strong opinions on the serial comma. They expect me to have a strong opinion, too. And I do. Here it is: I very, very emphatically don't give a hairy rodent. Use it, don't use it, fight to the death for either side. Go nuts. But I won't be taking up arms in that battle.

Quick refresher: the serial comma, also called the Oxford comma, is the comma before the "and" in: "red, white, and blue."

The Chicago Manual of Style, which is followed by most book editors, advocates the serial comma. The Associated Press Stylebook, which many newspapers follow, says not to use it. Per them, it's: "red, white and blue."

Academic types say the serial comma is more correct. (It's true that the AP position is a minority one.) And I think it's just lovely that people have the time and energy to care. Me, I have to WORK with both styles. It's all I can do to remember from one document to the next which style I'm supposed to be following.

It sure would be easier on me if the major style guides would agree on this. But I really couldn't care less whether they went pro-serial comma or anti. As long as I gets paid. (Actually, that's a whole other can of worms. The company for which I do most of my copy editing these days is all over the news for their darling little Chapter 11 stunt -- and they're four weeks behind in paying me! And I'm supposed to care about commas? Woid.)

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Joel said...

Anagram of Buntier?

Bummer about the lack of payment situation. However things go for them, I hope they pay you. Don't even get me started on what's wrong with bankruptcy in this country. Too late, but I'll restrict it to this one comment: they've made it so that only folks who have money can do it and the first people who generally get screwed by the organizations that declare it are the working stiffs whom you'd think the "protection" should be for and not against. Argh. Yeah, I don't even want to think about it.

I don't like the serial comma. I spent some formative years with the AP Stylebook. But, yeah, the sentence seems more beautiful without it. However, I was told by a writing instructor in a class provided by my employer (which means little to me in one sense because--and I know I've mentioned this before but it still really bugs me--we don't even have a corporate style guide) that one should include it for legal reasons. Um, apparently, lawyers can't tell you're talking about two different things unless you put a comma between them? I know some lawyers (and like most of them); seems to me that they're far more intelligent than to be thrown into a tailspin by the omission of a mere comma. But, hey, who am I to say?

Yeah, so I tend to use the serial comma in business correspondence, yaknow, just in case (that's sad, isn't it), but it grates. And it kinda pisses me off that I might start (might have already started occasionally, for all I know) using it in my leisure writing. Damn them. Just to Grammar Hell. But damn them nonetheless.

June Casagrande said...

Yeah! That whole thing about stuff creeping into your writing: that's a point I missed. I mean, the only thing that's important is consistency, and that's the thing the pro- and anti-serial comma folks are hurting. I totally missed that.

Thanks for your best wishes on the payment front. It's not like we'd be out on the street without what they owe me. But I've been burned by others and it's really maddening. One woman I did some work for actually weaseled me into doing MORE work after they'd already fallen behind paying me. She really needed the work done, so she spun it to make it sound like I'd be first in line to get paid if I were still working for them. Two weeks later their doors were shuttered.

I don't know that much about bankruptcy in particular, but I'm so incredibly flabbergasted by all the business news going on. For YEARS, we would watch seemingly nonsensical business decisions (like golden parachutes for Los Angeles Times publishers who damaged the paper and its earnings) and think: Well, there must be something I'm missing here. The people who make such decisions must have a good reason. They must know what they're doing. Right? Wrong! Turns out that not only has our government been run by the severly I.Q. impaired but our country's corporations have been fueled by bona fide stupidity. I mean, think about AIG. Their WHOLE BUSINESS is dealing with RISK. And Lehman? Their WHOLE BUSINESS is based on being smarter than that with money. And Detroit: What were they thinking when, as the Japanese were perfecting hybrid technology, Detroit execs were in D.C. lobbying to have SUVs reclassified so they could sidestep clean air laws? How can anyone who can put on a necktie every morning be that short sighted? (Yes, even clip-ons.)

I can't believe that we didn't learn the lesson of the dot-com boom: If something doesn't seem to make sense (like pets.com with no income and no business model trading at $120 a share and using the money to buy Lear jets for young hot shot execs but not to actually create a business), there's probably a problem with it. That's not just us outsider dopes failing to "get" what the experts are doing.

(Speaking of "don't get me started.")

P.S. I don't know if you're aware of how Sam Zell financed the purchase of the Tribune Co. But basically, he used employees' retirement accounts to buy the company in part "for" them. (If I understand it correctly, board members -- namely the Chandlers -- voted in favor of this travesty not because it allowed them to cash out their share for more than it was worth. The company's value was tanking and the Chandlers saw a way to sell it for more than it was worth by forcing employees to buy it for more than it was worth.)

Shouldn't we have regulations in place to prevent millionaires from playing three-card monty with employees' retirement funds? Shouldn't someone have been minding the store?

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