Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What the Comma Usage? A Grammatical Rant.

Okay. I generally avoid grammatical rants because it only leads to putting myself on a grammatical pedestal so when I make a grammatical mistake or typo, the sentence-combers and angry-bored-OCD people can exclaim "OH! LOOK! LOOK! You made a mistake! Thus all grammatical opinions you have are NOT right! NOT RIGHT! Blaspheme! Gnashing of teeth!"

So I avoid it. Generally.

I also don't care to go pulling grammatical motes out of eyes when I'm sure I have a few sticking out of my own. Again, it sets one up to tumble right off that ivory tower, and I don't care to tumble. Also, as many of you grammarians know, grammar can be rather dynamic. If you look at history, there are various grammatical "norms" that have shifted through the ages. Capitalization for example. Have any of you actually read the Constitution of the United States? They're just Capitalizing all Over the place! Wherever their Hearts desire! Proper nouns "only" be Hanged! So we can all concede that grammar is dynamic, and that no one wants to put themselves on a grammatical pedestals just to be shoved off by a squinty-eyed loony.

THAT said.

Can I tell you what drives me grammatically nuts and I've seen it used (or not used) more and more and more as the years go on? I work in an atmosphere of academics, and as such, I expect individuals to have a grasp on grammar basics. Sometimes it's the case... but sometimes.... yeeeeeah. This is where I first started noticing this particular pattern I'm about to rant about. It involves:

The comma.

The comma can be an elusive fellow. Some individuals think that their sentences can run on for pages if they merely employ the comma to break it up. NOT SO! A run on is a run on and no amount of hiding behind 200 commas will save you from my red pen! Also, lack of commas. Is there no time to create a "natural pause" in your sentence so the lay-reader can grasp what you're saying? Truly? If you're time is that strapped - I suggest loosening your schedule. Moderation in all things - including commas. Use them, don't abuse them. 

And then, here's my favorite and the crux of my rant, using commas for lists. Here's the pattern I've noticed lately and I've finally snapped! I'm eyeing that mote-in-the-eye with fiery fervor and resolve! I've noticed a lot of "lists" of 3 or more items, being demonstrated as follows:

"Octavius the Seal sought, found and consumed, several baby crabs a day."

Can you tell me what's wrong with this sentence? If you can't, then you're part of the problem. Here... try this:

"Octavius the Seal sought, found, and consumed several baby crabs a day."

Still not sure?

How about this:

"Gerard loved to eat hot dogs, green beans, and macaroni and cheese." 


"Gerard loved to eat hot dogs, green beans, and macaroni, and cheese."

Macaroni and cheese does NOT require a comma after the "macaroni" because it's a grouping. They "go" together. We all know this. They (the macaroni and the cheese) are viewed as a "single" item in a list of other singular items. They are not TWO separate items. The difference between "macaroni and cheese" and "sought, found, and consumed" is that "sought, found, and consumed" is a list of separate singular items SEP-AR-ATED with a comma whereas "hot dogs, green beans, and macaroni and cheese" are also singular items separated with a commas, with macaroni and cheese being seen as as singular item in the list. Comprende? Wake up!! This lesson isn't over until the bell rings! You're on MY time.

Ahem! To the smart books!

"Use a comma to separate the elements in a series (three or more things), including the last two. "He hit the ball, dropped the bat, and ran to first base." You may have learned that the comma before the "and" is unnecessary, which is fine if you're in control of things. However, there are situations in which, if you don't use this comma (especially when the list is complex or lengthy), these last two items in the list will try to glom together (like macaroni and cheese). Using a comma between all the items in a series, including the last two, avoids this problem. This last comma—the one between the word "and" and the preceding word—is often called the serial comma or the Oxford comma. In newspaper writing, incidentally, you will seldom find a serial comma, but that is not necessarily a sign that it should be omitted in academic prose."

To avoid confusion, use commas to separate words and word groups with a series of three or more.
Example:My $10 million estate is to be split among my husband, daughter, son, and nephew. Omitting the comma after son would indicate that the son and nephew would have to split one-third of the estate.

Use commas to separate three or more words, phrases, or clauses written in a series

The Constitution established the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government
(NOT!!... established the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. That would make it seem like the executive and judicial branches of government are together and the only seperate entity from those two is the legisliatve branch. Get it?!??!)

This attests to how dynamic grammar can be even country to country. In Britain, they use what is now becoming an American PLAGUE of comma: The flag is red, white and blue. Very. Un.American.

Guess what? We're (me and the one person who's pushing through this post like a champ!) LIVE in America. When in Rome, ya'll. When in Rome. So here's what good patriotic Americans do: [We] favor the Oxford (or Harvard) comma. These people place a comma before the and.

The flag is red, white, and blue.

NOTE: In Americastandard usage is to leave the comma in. For the love of ducks, leave it IN!

So unless you are British or a pompous American wishing they were British, or living in Britain and wanting to desperately grammatically fit in, you best leave that comma in when it's needed. And if you want to claim "I'm doing it the British way" I better see you spelling such things like colourtheatre (American comma), and semestre, thus.

In conclusion:

Co-workers, friends, and people who ask me to read over their papers and then don't take my grammatical suggestions seriously, (and NOT co-workers, friends (sans comma) and people who ask me to read over their papers and then don't take my grammatical suggestions seriously, as you are NOT singularly grouped with friends but they are in FACT separate elements in a series - UNLIKE - macaroni and cheese), recognize that my placing a comma after your document's "elements in a series" because they are still separate singular ideas is correct (and American) and NOT like "macaronis and cheeses." Or, just don't bring your crap to me anymore. Your comma usage is feeble (or pompous) and though grammar is dynamic, this comma rule still makes logical sense just as it always has and likely always will. It's the American way. Be a patriot!

I make a declaration!

I so declare that I shall NEVER give in to the becoming ever more "socially acceptable" lack of appropriate comma usage in a list of singular elements, even though seeming "academics" are starting to loosen their grammatical standards all around me and blatantly ignore my "comma corrections" when they CON-SIS-TENT-LY clump singular elements as "one" JUST because they're the last TWO elements in a series (British exceptions for British people living in Britain apply). My commas will always separate elements in a series and leave the "macaroni and cheeses" of sentences to their own proper devices. There's a difference. A big difference. And my children and my children's children, will all be champions of the proper use of commas in a series. 

God Bless America!

(Alright. I expect many a response scrutinizing the grammatical errors and/or typos I may have made in this post (and perhaps a reference to my inordinate amount of parenthetical asides). But I felt a good rant about annoying comma usage and moreover, the blatant DISREGARD of my grammar corrections when I've been ASKED specifically to do such, stands. And is stands on a a foundation created by our forefathers. It stands on American soil.)


heidikins said...

I'm glad I'm not lumped into the "friends and people" category, or the "co-workers and people" category, but more specifically, simply the "friend" category. ;)

Excellent rant. Carry on.


Marisa Jean said...

I suck at grammar. Sorry, for, adding, to, the, problem. Feel like punching me in the face? Ha ha. But really, I do suck at grammar. :(

David Hulet said...


Thank you for bringing this to the attention of the American Public! This is of paramount importance.

I am a religious ZEALOT when it comes to my little Oxford Commas! People are always taking them out and getting rid of them for the sole fact they see an "and." Well, eschew you! LOL

I am so sharing this (and <3 your parenthetical asides). You should rant, rave, and otherwise pontificate (though I don't mean that offensively) much more often ;)

Word verification: screchee. Totally using that from now on.

Sumiko said...

Will you post a rant on the Oxford comma? More specifically, the atrocious decline of the Oxford comma in recent years? I miss it.

jaime said...

I'm kinda scared to leave a comment right now for fear of wrong punctuation usage. (should there have been a comma in that sentence? I don't even know anymore!!) I usually try to be accurate, so hopefully I've never angered you so. Something I do notice I do is over use the ... . I'm a fan of dramatic pauses and sentences continuing after the ... to say something funny. I'm trying to cut back though, because I would use it on every sentence if I could.

Adam and MiKail said...

Oh Andrea! I have to agree with Jaime - I'm a little nervous about leaving a comment now! I think I do a fairly good job with my punctuation, but I know it could use some work.

I am glad you use your knowledge and talent with the English language to educate others - I am forever grateful to you for breaking me of my Emery County inproper usage of "see" and "saw". :)

Anonymous said...

So, here's one:

They should choose me, the biggest football fan to make the call.


They should choose me, the biggest football fan, to make the call.

My instinct is that both are correct because one could say that they should choose "me," and one could also say that they should choose the "biggest football fan." Since "me" and the "biggest football fan" are one in the same, logically, a comma might not be necessary.

What do you think?