On my job at a publisher, we recently changed our house style from “no serial commas” (à la The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual) to “all serial commas” (à la people with good sense and the Chicago Manual of Style). I learned at Nancy Campbell’s knee the pure virtue of a serial comma, the one that’s missing in “The cops actually helped them, Dick and Her,” and that rescues from nonsense “the Twin Cities, Berkeley, and Sacramento.”
I’ve been in publishing for 20 years, and I’ve never heard a good reason for omitting serial commas. Still, The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual says don’t use a serial comma, most periodicals lemmingly hew the AP line, and the moronic masses follow suit, supported and enforced by public schools, whose language standard is low indeed. Do you read the stuff that comes out of schools? Those people don’t talk good, and nobody there can recognize how bad it is. And then we pay them to force that low standard on our children.
Serial commas not only soothe and reassure all who experience them, they add a pleasing rhythm and graceful cessation to any sentence. Try them for yourself, and you’ll see.
A couple of years ago when I finally found a job in Chico and started working for adherents of AP style, there wasn’t a serial comma in sight. I think my gorge actually rose. The hardest task of all the electronic drudgery I used to do was getting good copy from an author who knew what was what and then deleting his serial commas, thereby violating my principles for the sake of feeding my family, a common predicament it seems. I used to sell Roundup.
Nudging my colleagues gently, tactfully, toward the peace and justice of serial commas paid off when at an editorial meeting the only defense of AP style its lone, brave supporter could muster was that the blessed serial comma interrupted the flow of a sentence and slowed down the reader. Clarity, balance, and goodness pushed aside for one imagined moment.
In a trice we were serial-comma adherents all around the table. I was actually giddy. We should have T-shirts or something. Our house style hasn’t looked back, recently lowercasing web and internet. We are so cutting edge.
Another big change for me last year involves something that I’m not going to discuss in public. I could, believe me, but I’m determined to keep all that private. You may have heard things. None of it’s probably true. Three family retainers know the sordid details, and I’m going to keep it like that. Everyone is entitled to privacy, and I’m not about to sell out my personal life for the kind of money the News & Review pays me.
On the other hand, a book deal could arouse my freedom of speech, and then I would at least tell most. I’ll try to stay in the moment and see how it goes.