Monday, May 16, 2011

Comma, comma, chameleon

On Twitter, I saw this post from APStylebook:
We do not put a comma before the "and" in a simple series: The flag is red, white and blue.
A follower had asked about the use of a comma in a series. There were plenty of comments, recommendations, and accusations (see I just broke the AP Style rule by putting that comma before the word and).
Some posters were almost mean about the proclamation that the extra comma is not used. I think I read a thinly-veiled threat to the Associated Press Stylebook team – guys check your cars’ brake cables before driving home today.

I had to learn these rules when I first started writing and editing for a magazine. You see, non-fiction writing tends to follow AP Style. Fiction writing follows The Chicago Manual of Style. I do both, so I’m always confused.

Chicago says the sentence structured would be: The flag is red, white, and blue.
As an editor, I just want consistency.

For some reason, I’m partial to using the comma in front of the and in a series – maybe as Lady GaGa says, I was born that way. Although, I think my elementary school English teachers must have taught that.

My suggestion is that fiction writers buy a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style for reference when in doubt about how to punctuate something.
For magazine and newspaper writers, refer to the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook. Either way, watch those commas. Wars have been started with less passion.