October 24th, 2013

long words

The enduring divisiveness of the serial comma

Had an engineer drop by my office to ask me to explain why we use "extra commas". So, I gave him a brief rundown of the rationale of why our house style uses the serial comma, and as an illustration, showed him that famous (possibly apocryphal) book dedication: "To my parents, God and Ayn Rand."

He was so delighted with this that he wrote it down on a post-it note. "But who is Ayn Rand?" he asked.

Struggling for a concise summation of Rand's place in literary history, I replied, "Well, she wrote two very enormous novels that are basically about why capitalism is great and communism is terrible. But I don't really recommend reading them."

He laughed. "I won't. I come from a communist country - I don't need to read what anyone else thinks about it."