Occasionally, the journalist’s world in which I reside collides with the publisher’s world where I work. Print journalists follow the Associated Press style guides like a sixth sense. Book publishers, on the other hand, refer to the Chicago Manual of Style as “the Bible” and we defer to Chicago for the “right” answer to every sticky grammar or punctuation question. The serial comma has been a thorn in my side from Day One and I’ve recently made an executive decision!
The serial comma, for all of us who didn’t know it had a formal name, is the final comma used in a series of items before the conjunction (usually an “and”). It is also known as the series, Oxford, or Harvard comma.
Chicago “strongly recommends this widely practiced usage . . . since it prevents ambiguity.” Meanwhile, AP says don’t use it. Other newspaper style guides such as the New York Times and The Guardian concur with AP, while lining up with Chicago are the Elements of Style and the Oxford University Press.
With all these comma experts disagreeing, what’s a book publisher who frequently publishes the work of newspaper journalists to do? Why, adopt the serial comma as our Stephens Press house style, of course.
If anyone ever wondered about the role of the editor, this is yet one more example of the myriad of details that must be checked and rechecked during the editing and proofreading stages of every book.
I am not a user of the serial comma, myself, so it will take some extra effort to retrain this over-stuffed brain, but I’m working on it!
Here are some examples from Chicago of the erstwhile serial comma:
If the last element consists of a pair joined by and, the pair should still be preceded by a serial comma and the first and (see the last two examples).