Comma usage

Dear Advisor,

I freely admit that I have a very carefree attitude with regard to grammar and comma usage in particular.  In fact, I often place commas in the middle of my sentences for no other reason than it seemed like a good idea at the time.  However, I distinctly remember that my 7th grade English teacher, Mr. C., taught me that it is not necessary to put a comma after the last item in a series before the word “and.”  I do not care that including this last comma may reduce ambiguity.  This is nothing you could possibly do, or say, that will convince me that comma is necessary and I will swear up and down until my dying day that it is my God-given right not to put it there.  I will be including this last comma while writing lists in my thesis, but I want you to know that I am doing this under duress.  I am simply sick and tired of leaving it out and you putting it in and me removing the damn thing again.  However that comma will not be used in anything that I write that you do not have editing power over and when I leave this university I will never, ever use that comma ever, ever again so long as I live.  So there.

Your not-so-obedient grad student,

Mrs Whatsit

P.S.  Don’t you even think about commenting about the fact that there’s no period after the “Mrs” above because I read once that Madeleine L’Engle originally intended there not be a period after the “Mrs” in Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which (note ommission of comma–take that!) to distinguish them from the other characters in the book but the publisher added the periods because they didn’t realize she was intentionally leaving them out.

P.P.S.  I totally concede the point about my mixxing up when to use “that” and “which.”

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4 thoughts on “Comma usage

  1. My mother used to work as a copy-editor for a Major Magazine; she said they’d leave out that comma to save that one extra character-space. You could try that argument on your advisor.

  2. The “serial comma” is purely a matter of typographic convention. It is commonly used in the United States, less so in England, and not by the NY Times. Considering that no one is going to read your PhD thesis, I really don’t understand why you give a fuck. In relation to manuscripts for publication, copy editors will enforce the style rules of the particular journal, so it doesn’t matter what authors do.

  3. FINALLY! Someone else who agrees with me! PP’s right in that it’s definitely more common here in the US and that if copy editors want the damned commas, they can add them at will – but I’m not going to.

    And imagine my pain/fury/frustration when I saw the examiners comments about my PhD thesis where they had both ranted about all of the “spelling errors” in the text … in the land far, far away, we use the traditional English spelling (haemoglobin, ischaemia, aluminium etc) and both of my examiners were in North America. Grrrrrr.

  4. One of my collaborators corrects my “that” vs. “which” somewhat frequently, and once sent me this link:
    http://home.earthlink.net/~llica/wichthat.htm
    It’s a Venn diagram explaining the difference 🙂

    Of course, I frequently correct him when he calls me “Debbie” and he doesn’t seem to learn either. Guess we’re even.

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