02 June 2004

Serial comma

Brad DeLong has it right.

I can see from the title that I am going to have some nits to pick with Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

First of all, there definitely needs to be a comma after “Shoots”. Do we, after all, wish to live in a world in which the sentence, “I would like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God”, is grammatical?

The final comma in a list before the “and” or “or” is an important banisher of confusion, ambiguity, and general silliness.

Say it, brother!

Update: Having read the book, I learn that the title refers to a joke which illustrates the importance of the Oxford comma.


Anonymous said...

No, there should not be a comma after Eats, Shoots and Leaves, unless the sentence is describing three actions performed by a panda: 1) It eats; 2) it shoots (unlikely!) 3) it leaves.

On the other hand, if the sentence is describing the panda's diet, there should be no comma after eats.

That's the whold point of Lynne Truss's title, which obvioulsy escapes you.

Jonathan Korman said...

Anon, you are correct. I had not seen the cover illustration for the book at the time that I made this post.

Though I have to confess that Ms Truss' expressed tolerance for those who reject the serial comma is deeply troubling to me. As Prof DeLong explains, the serial comma should be embraced by all right-thinking people.