And what about the Oxford Comma? Are we not allowed to use that anymore? I miss that Oxford Comma.
W.O.W. to the rescue!
Oh, I am SO with you, Suzanne. Doing without it has almost the same effect on me as seeing the possessive "its" written with an apostrophe. But we've covered that.
The Oxford comma, also known as a serial comma, is defined as "the comma used immediately before a grammatical conjunction (and, or, or nor [note serial comma]) that precedes the last item in a list of three or more items."
I am not only a fan of the Oxford comma; I'm one who believes that the world is just a more beautiful, more ordered, more reasonable place when it lives here with us. Alas, some of the English-speaking world does not agree, with the British largely opting out of its use and Americans somewhat divided. The two most frequently used American style guides, The Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Stylebook, have opposite leanings. Chicago "strongly encourages" the use of the serial comma, and AP generally shuns it but allows its use in places where its omission leads to confusion. (Those familiar with the two guides will no doubt recognize AP's bias in favor of any rule that saves space, since it was written and is maintained as a guide for newspapers. I say if you're worried about the space a comma occupies, you need to find a cheaper source of newsprint.)
So what's the issue? Ambiguity.
Consider the apocryphal book dedication: To my parents, Ayn Rand and God. Apart from the interesting genealogical questions raised by the implied appositive here, the omission of the comma before "and" draws the eye to some sort of connection between Rand and God that is not shared with the parents. (If you know anything about Rand, this is highly unlikely.) A serial comma would be kind of an equalizer, making all three in the series share the same weight. Oh wait...this raises theological questions. We'll cover that some other time.
Another easy place to see the wisdom of the serial comma is in the following construction:
At Granny's House, we like cheese, Spam and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Okay, I know we're out of the closet in our love for Spam around here, but we do NOT eat it WITH peanut butter and jelly. At least not on the same sandwich. Usually. In the above sentence we're talking about three different kinds of sandwiches, but not using a comma after the Spam sandwich makes one wonder if the Spam goes on the bread with the peanut butter. It doesn't. Usually.
This aspiring designer loves to decorate with greens, neutrals and black and white.
Here is a case where even AP would agree to put a comma. Without it, it's not clear that the black and white palette is separate from the black and white.
Occasionally but rarely, the use of the serial comma can actually create confusion, but to my mind these instances are so infrequent and so easily remedied that this shouldn't be a reason to routinely omit it.
Five years ago you wouldn't have caught me dead writing a sentence without the Oxford comma. Now you may occasionally catch a place where I've omitted it, but only because the demands of professional writing have both inoculated and softened me a bit. I write for several Canadian clients, and the Canadians, choosing to remain with the Queen on this one, have opted out. It wouldn't be smart for us to disregard the conventions of a whole nation because of a personal preference, now would it?
So Suzanne, you go right ahead and use that comma unless you're writing for a publication, company, or country that will cut your hourly rate if you do. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.
And just for the record...Ayn Rand had no children.