No, I haven't read Eats, Shoots & Leaves, but I did accidentally place an order for this remarkably ugly desktop calendar. I didn't send it back because the fault was mine and not the online bookseller's. But rather than keeping the thing on my desk I have banished it to the closet where I store books and papers and things. Every few days I tear off two or three pages and grin at Lynne's mini-rants. But it continues to bug me that there's a comma missing from the book's title, so I've just taken my red pen and made things right. At least for today.
Yes, I am a stickler for the serial comma. You should be, too. And stop scratching your heads; you know very well what serial commas are, although you may not have known until now what they are called. There's a good page about serial commas over at Get it Write:
One of the questions we are asked frequently is whether a comma should go before the conjunction "and" in a series of three or more items. The answer is yes. Although grammar gurus abandoned that comma rule for a while in the twentieth century, we have since realized that using the serial comma (as it is called) is a good idea for two reasons:
First, it prevents misreading. Consider this sentence, for example:
The menu for the class picnic will feature green beans, stewed apples, macaroni and cheese and okra and tomatoes.
Without the serial comma, the series items are difficult to see. Here is the same sentence with the serial comma added:
The menu for the class picnic will feature green beans, stewed apples, macaroni and cheese, and okra and tomatoes.
With the serial comma, the reader can tell easily that the class ate four different dishes, not five or six, as may have been construed without that last comma.
Yeah. That's why Eats, Shoots & Leaves should be Eats, Shoots, & Leaves. And no, the serial comma is not a fussy detail.
The Lawyer’s Book of Rules for Effective Legal Writing, by Thomas R. Haggard, says "The serial comma is essential in legal writing because it promotes clarity" (17). Consider this sentence:
Mrs. Jones left all her money to her three children: Huey, Dewey and Louie.
Without the serial comma, the sentence does not clearly indicate that the three children are to be given equal shares of the inheritance. Quite possibly (especially if Huey were a jerk), Huey would get half the money, and Dewey and Louie would have to split the other half.
Right. Because when we connect two words with "and," they often lose their individual identities. For instance, if I ask you how to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I could be requesting your recipe for peanut butter sandwiches and also jelly sandwiches. But that's not what you'll assume, is it? Sometimes "and" likes to make trouble. That's why we need serial commas.
My fellow serial comma fans may notice the absence of our little darlings in my new book. Trust me: I did include commas in all the appropriate places. Unfortunately, a conscientious copyeditor who was trained to follow my publisher's house style ripped them out and left them to wither and die on the cutting room floor. I could do nothing to prevent the senseless tragedy.
I knew when I submitted that manuscript what would happen to those defenseless little serial commas, but I created them anyway, certain that a brief life would be better than no life at all. I did my best for them, tenderly placing each one where it could do honest, meaningful work during its short existence.
I just wish I could have done more.