Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Comma comma comma comma

You might know it as the Harvard comma, or the Oxford comma, or the red, white and blue comma, or even the Ayn Rand comma* ("I'd like to thank my parents, God and Ayn Rand"). It's the one after "jobs" in the centerpiece hed shown here. (There's no "and" in the online hed, though there's more than enough space for it.)

So what's up? Has the Freep thrown in with the English department and sworn off one of the most treasured secret handshakes of the Ancient Craft?** Well, not judging from the inside heds:

Iran lashes out at U.S., Israel and NATO

or the body copy:
The Senate took up a giant tax package Tuesday that saves more than 20 million taxpayers from the bite of the alternative minimum tax, nudges the nation toward more renewable energy use and extends relief for disaster victims.

Apparently this hallmark of wire service style is alive and kicking downtown.

Time for panic in the streets? Probably not. We tend to teach, or at least to imply, that readers will be at the gates with pitchforks and torches at the sight of such stylistic inconsistency. Some of them might notice (though there's plenty of stuff more worthy of their attention), but I'd hazard that they're more likely to ask why the rest of the A section hasn't caught up. Truth be told, that's not a bad question. The Ayn Rand comma does no harm by its presence, but it can do some by its absence:

TV cameras captured images of gunsmoke, bullets slamming into cars and buildings and police ducking and running.

That one's been de-comma'ed for effect; best I can tell from here, AP and everyone who ran it sensibly followed the AP sub-rule and kept the comma after "buildings." Maybe the no-serial-comma rule is another one due for the ash heap of history.

While we're at it, collectors of Tyranny of the Stylebook tales will surely want to check out Arnold Zwicky's take on the NYT's recent case of husseinitis.

* Czarina brought this one home from graduate school many years back; as Language Hat and others have noted, it seems to have been around for a while and might be an apocryphal book dedication.
** Meaning -- no more "cops," "feds" and "pals" in heds?

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