Manners & Misdemeanors

Why The Truly Rich Lady Is Obsessed With the Serial Comma

She is a grammar Nazi, a champion of the written word, including the intricacies of its use.
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Do you want to ask our resident TRL a question? E-mail C.C. Coo at [email protected].  

Readers, I am now going to reveal a very personal secret. I am obsessed with the comma, in particular, its most divisive form, the serial comma.


If you are scratching your heads wondering what a serial comma is (no, it is not falling asleep after eating a bowl of cornflakes) and why this Truly Rich Lady is enamored with it, please go to sleep now. The TRL, having grown up in a house full of books, an environment where writing essays is a weekend pastime, is a champion of the written word, including the intricacies of its use, the beautiful comma included.

I imagine the Anti Serial Comma Faction as wild bulls that throw away books after consuming them or ascetics that lead a passionless life of constant humming.

Now, the serial comma, which is also known as the Oxford comma or the Harvard comma (so named because these institutions support its use), is the comma before the last coordinating conjunction (usually “and” or “or”) on a list of items. Example: Mina and I shared a lunch of lemon slices, sparkling water, and air.

When the serial comma was first instituted is sort of a mystery, but the feature can be traced to the book Authors’ and Printer’s Dictionary by F.H. Collins, which was first published in 1905, and may even have been established in earlier versions of the text. Since then, the serial comma has set off a heated—and, in my opinion, sexy—grammar debate among publications, editors, and professional and everyday writers.

Those who are against it, also known as heathens and my former copy editor, shrug it off as a stylistic choice, a waste of space, and a confusing punctuation that just slows you down. Rude.

Those who subscribe to the serial comma, such as my spirit animals, Messrs. Strunk and White, declare it a valuable device in creating clear written communication. Those who are against it, also known as heathens and my former copy editor, shrug it off as a stylistic choice, a waste of space, and a confusing punctuation that just slows you down. Rude.

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I imagine the Anti Serial Comma Faction as wild bulls that throw away books after consuming them or ascetics that lead a passionless life of constant humming. They see the serial comma as an intruder or interrupter that should be deleted, but then without it, they have to be responsible for gems such as this: Mina and I share our food, clothes and accessories. Uh, I think fashion is delicious, but I don’t eat my designer shorts. When the serial comma is employed in this sentence, it becomes clear that Mina and I share three separate categories of things with each other: food, clothes, and accessories. Mina and I share our food, clothes, and accessories.

I know, I know. I’ve offered an absurd example to drive a point (I am thinner than Mina and do not eat grain!), and this probably shows my bias (I am very biased). Nevertheless, this still demonstrates the importance of placing that final comma as it removes any ambiguity about Mina and me as persons who can be subjects of a new season of My Strange Addiction

Over the weekend, I received a text message that said, “Let’s eat CC.” I was suddenly afraid for my life! Am I delicious?

I’m sure the Antis will have something to say and deploy their own examples to drive their point (of confusion). That’s the beauty of language. It is alive, it is a discussion, and it changes to reflect what is happening in the world right now. The compromise is to choose a side and stick to it. Are you a Serialist or an Anti? Or are you an Undecided, a flip-flopper who will choose to use or not use the serial comma according to each sentence?

Maybe in our lifetime, this grammar war will find a resolution with one side winning and another losing (the Antis). In the meantime, consider another example of the importance of even just the plain old version of the comma: Over the weekend, I received a text message that said, “Let’s eat CC.”

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I was suddenly afraid for my life! Am I delicious? Have I gained that much weight? Is this texter a zombie? Have my detractors banded together for a most malicious plan? And then, coming to my senses, I remembered I am not edible. Mina was just asking me out for lunch.

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About The Author
C.C. Coo
The Truly Rich Lady
C.C. Coo—also known as Town&Country’s Truly Rich Lady—is not a professional seeker of leisure as many people wrongly assume, for she has a real-life occupation: a SHE-EO of Important (Sub)Company of an Empire, for which she works very hard to make sure that the people in her care are not left wanting. She believes that manners are utterly important: “If society is like one of those costume jewelry worn by Jackie O or Diana, it would be the glue that keeps the veneer of a most beautiful thing from falling apart,” she says.
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