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CHAT: Serial commas (was: W'ster sauce)

From:John Cowan <cowan@...>
Date:Saturday, October 18, 2003, 23:55
And Rosta scripsit:

> > I could go into a whole long rant on how utterly bogus it is to omit > > the final serial comma, > > Do.
Basically that you have to think about whether it's going to cause an ambiguity to leave out the comma, whereas having the comma present can never cause an ambiguity (despite your apparent counterexample). In this country, at least, serial commas are still standard except in newspapers, where they are omitted on the supposed ground of saving space, but really IMAO because of mindless adherence to tradition.
> Including the comma can equally well lead to a misparse: > > I dedicate this book to my wife, Marilyn Monroe[,] and God.
When one or more of the elements of a series contains an embedded comma (in this case, the one after "wife"), then the serial commas are promoted to semicolons, even though they are not independent clauses: 1) I dedicate this book to my wife, Marilyn Monroe; and God. (One might add "to" here before "God" as well.) This works very well where there are multiple elements with modifiers: 2) Among the dead were John Jones, of New York; Mary Smith, of London; and Frank Peters, of Johannesburg. (There are some people who accept this style but want to demote the final semicolon to a comma, a folly without warrant.) Finally, it works perfectly well to make your example restrictive rather than incidental, in which case you need no comma at all: 3) I dedicate this book to my wife Marilyn Monroe and God. -- Andrew Watt on Microsoft: John Cowan "Never in the field of human computing has so much been paid by so many to so few!" (pace Winston Churchill)