On 20 April 2010 17:12, Andrew Sullivan <a...@shinkuro.com> wrote:
> On Tue, Apr 20, 2010 at 01:57:13PM +0000, Paul Rubin wrote:
>> AFAIK "A, B and C" is the predominant usage in the U.S. (where, given the 
>> state
>> of our educational system, we're lucky if we get the first comma). That's 
>> what I
>> was taught (in New York) (after the American Revolution).  Can't speak for 
>> the
>> Brits, but perhaps they use the second comma. They certainly seem fond of 
>> extra
>> vowels.
> My Gowers edition of Fowler discusses this.  Fowler seems to think
> that the main point is to avoid ambiguity, so that you normally
> punctuate "A, B and C", but need a comma in some cases.  The text
> concedes, however, that some people prefer to put the comma every
> time, for consistency, since it's sometimes needed to avoid ambiguity.
> This appears to be left as a matter of taste.  (The reason not to do
> it, of course, is that in an enumeration the comma really stands for
> "and", so to add a comma before the "and" would be otiose.)
> Examples of ambiguity (again from Fowler):
> "Tenders were submitted by John Brown, Cammel Laird, Vickers, and
> Harland and Wolff."  Without the comma after Vickers, you wouldn't
> know that the last firm to submit was "Harland and Wolff".
> "The smooth grey of the beech stem, the silky texture of the birch,
> and the rugged pine."  Here, without the comma after birch, it would
> read as though both the birch and the rugged pine have a silky
> texture.
> If you think that the ambiguous cases like those above are common
> enough, and you want a consistent rule, then you should put the comma
> after B.  Otherwise, you should only use the comma when you actually
> need it (and A, B and C would be the right way in that case).  Isn't
> it nice to have rules that start with "it depends"?
> A

These are contrived examples. In every case the writer could reword
the sentence to remove the ambiguity, as I demonstrated in an earlier
post. The problem is not the commas, the problem is the desire to find
ambiguity and then to place blame. It is childish, authors who engage
in such practices are not wise for their ability to convey meaning,
they are wise for their ability to draw attention to their own egos.

A similar example for capitalization:
I once helped my uncle Jack off a horse.
I once helped my uncle jack off a horse.

Or for pronunciation:
He asked for a new display.
He asked far a nudist play.

Dotan Cohen


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