Friday, August 11, 2006


Revenge of the lowly comma

One of my favourite posts was the 'zed versus zee' pronunciation debate, and not just because it still generates at least one hit a week. I just have a strange affection for the idiosyncracies of language. Like yesterday, I spent half an hour researching whether or not I had to use a serial comma. Apparently, there are feuding factions on this one - and you thought Red Sox v Yankees, or Capulets v Montagues, or Tastes Great v Less Filling were blood feuds!

A serial comma is the comma that may (or may not) come just before a conjunction in a list of items. Which one is right:

We had a huge lunch with sandwiches, fruit and potato chips.
* or *
We had a huge lunch with sandwiches, fruit, and potato chips.

That second comma, after fruit, is a serial comma. I don't tend to use them, and most newspaper style guides - including the Canadian Press and the NYT - agree with me. But Strunk and White and Fowler's Modern English Style beg to differ.

What's a girl to do? Grammar matters! If you don't believe me, read this Globe and Mail story (hat tip to Fryman for the link) about a comma that may just cost Rogers Communication the tidy sum of $2.13M.

I get other cool stuff in my in-box, too. Like AOL sent me no schwag whatsoever with their request for me to advertise their new Study Buddy service for K - 12 school kids. I have long thought AOL was the devil, and haven't really had the chance to check out this service, but hey, maybe one of you might find it helpful.

And this is cool. There's a wonderful organization in the States called First Book, which I will happily endorse (also completely without schwag - see how magnanimous I am?), and they are offering a coupon for 10% off your purchase at Borders (which I understand is a lovely book store in the US) for August 26 and 27 only. An additional 10% of your purchase will be donated to First Book.

Now I've got to go figure whether I'm a serial commaist or not...