Monday, April 21, 2014

Comma Wars

Does anyone really agree on the use of the comma? Today on HARO (Help a Reporter Out) there was a link about comma usage. Just the other day my editorial intern discussed the Oxford comma usage. Do you have any idea how many different style guides exist? Just to name a few: Strunk and White, AP Style, Chicago Style, Masters of Language Arts ... and probably others. And yes, there is the Oxford too. I always chuckle when the infamous Grammar Police go nuts about certain complaints that are style-related. It is the comma though that has the most "proper" usage rules (and naturally the rules conflict).

If you're running a publication, the rule is simple: be consistent. Some publications have their own style guides. You can make up certain rules that are your editorial guidelines and the preferred style. The key is to apply the rule the SAME way every time. In that case you can easily point to your own style rules if someone says something. Believe me, the Grammar Police lurk. I once had someone edit my column and send it to me. It was clear this person took great pleasure in correcting my column. P.S., no one finds it cute or endearing to have someone correct their work (uninvited) like their 6th-grade English teacher. If it makes you feel literate and superior, my real question is why?

I do have a thought about being a great editor. The person who thinks he or she knows it all is not the great editor. You have to recognize and know when you don't know. The trick works like this: know what you know and know what you don't know. When you recognize your lack of knowledge you will be prompted to look it up vs. leave it as-is (and it turns out wrong). Because in print if it was wrong yesterday guess what? It's still wrong today. In the case a humble recognition of your strengths and weaknesses pays off. For example, I am rarely confidence with my use of effects vs. affects or lay vs. lie vs. laid, etc. But hey! I know I am not clear so I always look it up.

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