I know. Sounds a bit like “serial killer”, doesn’t it? My editor, the inestimable Marie-Lynn, returned my manuscript liberally streaked with red. “Inconsistent use of the serial comma,” she accused. “Do you know what I mean by a serial comma?”
Of course I didn’t. Life until then had been blissfully free of serial commas. But I hastily googled it.
And I found out that a serial comma is the comma placed immediately before “and” in a series of three or more terms. For example, a list of three dishes might be written either as “salad, fish, and fowl” (with the serial comma), or as “salad, fish and fowl” (without the serial comma). Thank you Wikipedia.
I asked Marie-Lynn if I could simply use it when I felt like, and leave it when I didn’t.
“Certainly not!” said Marie-Lynn. Apparently, you have to pick one way of doing it and then be consistent for your entire book. Grammatical inconsistencies can be distracting for a reader, if only at a subliminal level.
Marie-Lynn then informed me that I didn’t know proper use of a semi-colon. Semi-colons can only be used to separate two independent clauses, which means that they can stand alone as independent sentences. For instance:
I don’t know what a semi-colon is. Obviously, I know nothing of grammar.
Can also be written as:
I don’t know what a semi-colon is; obviously, I know nothing of grammar.
This eliminates the pause between the two sentences.
I don’t think I can bear to think about this anymore.