Friday, March 24, 2006

THE IMPACT OF A SERIAL COMMA

Well, I’ve fought it as long as I could, but it looks like I’m going to end up on the losing end of this one.

My good buddy Bobby Earl and I have been lobbying hard to end the incorrect use of “impact” as a verb for years, yet people keep throwing it out there everywhere you turn.

Instead of “having an impact” on something, people tend to abbreviate by saying “impacting.” According to the American Heritage Book of Usage, 84% of the Usage Panel disapproves of using the word in this way. But the train has already left the station, so I doubt we’re going to be able to catch this one.

I’d better shift my focus back to fighting for the always-correct inclusion of a comma before the last item/word/phrase when items/words/phrases are listed in series. Lots of people like to skip that last comma before the word “and,” regarding it superfluous and unnecessary, but such an omission is not always correct, and often serves to confuse the reader.

This is a battle it appears I am winning, as evidenced by the countless links to handbooks and other online writing resources advocating the consistent use of a "Serial Comma" before the word “and.” I would include some of those links here, but you people should really be able to trust me by now. How long have we been dating?

But if you insist.

6 comments:

Schmidty said...

Thank you...I thought I was the only one fighting this battle (in all seriousness, it's a pet peeve of mine in writing, too).

Jay said...

This trend to omit the final "serial comma" we owe to the fourth estate (always trying to save space). The AP Style Book: "Use commas to separate elements in a series, BUT DO NOT PUT A COMMA BEFORE THE CONJUNCTION IN A SIMPLE SERIES."

As usual, the media is fucking things up. No doubt journalists will be the ruin of us all...

I am not terribly committed in this debate, but I am annoyed by the common error of an author being insconsistent with his or her usage within the space of a document. If you insist on wading into one of these usage skirmishes, for the love of Pete (Fonda), show some conviction.

When confronted with difficult decicions such as whether to include the final serial comma, I often ask myself: "What would Mike Martz do?" When this fails to produce anything constructive, I often ask myself: "What would Bill O'Reilly do?" Then I go to sleep for several days...

Bobby Earl said...

I don't care what "The Man" says, I'm going down fighting on this one. The widespread acceptance of "impact" as a verb is merely a harbinger of more sinister things to come. Once the world realizes that Americans really don't care about the degradation of our official language we'll be the target of shady linguistic subversives everywhere. The Hispanic populace already curry enough favor that I have to read the consumer information on my Doritos in Spanish. How soon before Canadian sleeper agents have a majority of us slipping "u"s in where they don't belong or evil operatives from our lingual progenitors across the oil slick have us using words like "tyre" or "quietened"? Granted, they've had much longer to pervert and desecrate the language than we have, but are we necessarily fated to follow their course of linguistic lassitude and idiomatic ignominy? I think not. We must stand strong and undivided against the lazy and uncaring abusers of our language, for these are the primary agents of our imminent cultural demise. We must fight and defend to the last burning grammatical bastion the tenets of our established mode of communication lest we all devolve into babbling Boomhauers that defy comprehension.
To those of you that recklessly and habitually utilize substandard English to your own lazy ends, I say do your worst. Use "impact" as a verb - hell, use it as an adjective. For as long as there are paladins of proper English, such as myself, you will find yourselves in the ignorant minority.

barnyardfriend said...

I think that O'Reilly would make obscene phone calls to his female coworkers and then omit the serial comma.

Although I speak American not so good, I try to follow AYNTK's suggestions on the serial commas. In several experiences of group writing projects, I have noted that most people omit the serial comma and I have to fight for it's inclusion. Also, most people who were trained to type on a typewriter still use two spaces after a period (which I know is also one of your pet peeves). I fight that fight constantly, especially since some of the things I write have a character limit that includes spaces. Secretaries are very hard to convince sometimes.

AYNtK said...

I love you guys. Really.

Now I am puzzled by a much deeper question: What WOULD Mike Martz do?

Dammit, Jay. WHY do you bring up such important questions and then abandon then without so much as a second thought? I need a team of monkeys working on this vexing inquiry.

I feel I am more impacted by Mike Martz than perhaps any other single American figure.

(I think the incorrect use of "impacted" in that sentence gives it a Brokeback meaning I did not intend)

AYNtK said...

And don't get me started on the double space after the period thing. People, by and large, are lazy - we simply don't want to invest any effort in learning new things when the old things work just fine. So why re-train ourselves to only hit the space bar once after a period when hitting it twice comes naturally and works just as well? There's really no upside to it.

As a writer, I am often tasked with "cleaning up" large documents for clients. One of the standard fixes I perform is the global replace of ".__" with "._" I recommend trying this next time you get your hands on a group document, but don't use underscores like I just did - actually hit the space bar. (I figure you probably knew that, but wanted to make sure my bases were covered) This is a great way to fix all of those unsightly gutters at once - and even better is that it creates a TON of work for the person hell bent on getting those spaces back into the document. And since most people are allergic to work, 9 times out of 10 you will win the battle.

I SEE YOU!