Commas (and parsing) are important

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[h/t to Omri Ceren]

Update — It's a fake, and an old one. I should have checked. But the point stands…

More of the same:

"'My parents, Ayn Rand and God'", 3/16/2006
"Merle Haggard's ex-wives", 10/24/2010
"Visual aid for the final serial comma", 9/18/2011
"The Oxford Comma is your friend", 12/10/2013


  1. Mr Fnortner said,

    September 27, 2014 @ 5:15 am

    This might help:

  2. Stan Carey said,

    September 27, 2014 @ 6:40 am

    Yes, it's an old fake. (Well, old in internet terms.) Plausible and amusing enough to keep doing the rounds.

  3. Sili said,

    September 27, 2014 @ 7:36 am

    I don't see how this has anything to do with the serial comma. Doesn't everyone agree that a comma is needed between the words *not* concatenated with "and"?

  4. Y said,

    September 27, 2014 @ 11:40 am

    Is "Eat, Ray, Love" authentic?
    Cf. The recent "Eat, bray, love: amorous donkey couple reunited after protests at separation".

  5. Chuck Berridge said,

    September 27, 2014 @ 9:31 pm

    My favorite is the Penzey's Spices saying: "Love people. Cook them tasty food." Adding one comma makes that a VERY different statement similar to the "Eats shoots and leaves" statement.

  6. Dan Lufkin said,

    September 28, 2014 @ 11:20 am

    Anyone else remember Swann & Flanders? "If the Juju meant us not to eat people, He wouldn't have made us of meat."

  7. A.D. said,

    September 28, 2014 @ 9:13 pm

    "It's a fake, and an old one. I should have checked. But the point stands…"


    just admit that you were wrong and move on. who cares if 'the point still stands'?

  8. richardelguru said,

    September 29, 2014 @ 6:48 am

    Dan Lufkin
    "I won't eat people, eating people is wrong"
    Of course fighting people…

    btw It's usually Flanders and Swann (I suppose unless you prefer the piano.)

  9. leoboiko said,

    September 30, 2014 @ 6:57 am

    English speakers keep arguing about whether or not the serial comma should be required; but I come from a language whose orthography mandates non-serial comma, & I very much enjoy the fact that in English I can choose on a case-by-case basis.

  10. Ray Dillinger said,

    October 2, 2014 @ 9:04 pm

    I regard the serial comma as something to always use to avoid ambiguity, and otherwise treat it as a transcription issue; I use it if the speaker's rhythm (or the intended reading) indicates a short pause, and don't use it if it doesn't.

    Editors have sometimes asked me if I'm being inconsistent about it, but generally have agreed with me that it's helping communicate character personalities when I point out that outside of quotations, I always use one, and inside quotations, each character I write is self-consistent.

    But different characters are from different places, and to my ear people from different places have different speaking rhythms. The continuation comma marks one aspect of that. Other aspects of speaking rhythm are marked by use of colons versus periods, or use of semicolons. Uptalking characters usually get a question mark at the end of their utterance whenever it's ambiguous whether or not they're asking a question, because whether or not they intend to be understood that way it's more likely that they will be. Characters with a rapid east-coast style delivery or characters who spend a lot of time alone and like it that way on the other hand, tend to flat utterances and get fewer question marks (or exclamation points) than most other characters. And if a character is from a certain area between the east coast and the northeastern midwest, the plural of 'you' is 'youse', where if they're from a certain area of the south, the plural of 'you' is 'y'all.'

    This all happens because I listen to people.

    I don't go so far as to misspell words for "eye dialect" effect, but different people arrange their thoughts differently, structure their sentences differently, use regional vocabulary, and speak with different rhythm. When I'm writing dialog, I try to reproduce that.

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