The Curious Case of the Missing Comma

I bloody love stories like this, mainly because I’m one of those writers who tries to keep commas down to the bare minimum. Here’s an example of how a missing comma can end up costing you a couple of million dollars.

Before we start, let’s take a look at one of the more common uses of the comma: making lists.

On his travels, Doctor Francis Upworthy met a penitent drug dealer, a man who swallowed knives, his future wife Judith, a kick-boxing dwarf, and a pole-dancer.

The good doctor gets around, and he meets a lot of interesting people. But here’s the problem; the last comma in that list is often called the Oxford Comma, and just as often, is cited as being superfluous. In this instance, the and conjunction acts as the list comma, so adding another one before the last item in the list makes little sense. I’m not going to get into who is right and who is wrong about this; it’s an argument that’s way older than me. The point is that detractors of the Oxford Comma will take that sentence and put a big red line through that last comma, and they’ll  probably add a little literary venom to show just how wrong you are for using it.

But what happens if I remove the comma? Continue reading “The Curious Case of the Missing Comma”

And speaking of commas…

I came across a great article in the Times a few years back. It was behind a paywall then but now it’s available for us freeloaders to see.

Giles Whittell wrote a brilliant article on why we should be looking carefully at our use commas, and he demonstrates this by writing the whole piece – without a comma.

A brave man. Here is it is.

Fighting the comma epidemic

commaOver the years I’ve highlighted one or two punctuation guides which I’ve found useful in my writing. I’m not a stickler for punctuation rules, but I do believe that you have to understand them before you decide to break them. I’ve spent a few days reading through some of my older pieces of work to see it’s changed over the years (I’ve got a cold and I’m bored – leave me alone), and I’m pleased to see that there is much less  that I’d change about my earlier work than I thought. I think my sense of rhythm has improved, and I’m a lot more ruthless in cutting out needless fluff than I used to be. Best of all though, I use a lot less commas.

Continue reading “Fighting the comma epidemic”

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