Creating Continual Comma Confusion

My whole life I’ve had an affinity for the English language (and alliteration). Proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation have always been incredibly important to me – even to the point where I will comment on friends’ Facebook statuses with corrections! So naturally, one of my favorite aspects of closed captioning is being able to use my love and knowledge of the English language, professionally, every single day.

Here at Aberdeen, we strive for the best. That expectation starts at the initial point of contact when you first call our office, and it extends all the way down to the accuracy of the captions and subtitles that we ultimately deliver back to you.

One rule that I take pride in is using the serial comma. This is a rule that Aberdeen has decided to put into common practice for all of our captions, and it made the grammar nerd in me very happy.

A serial comma is the comma used immediately before the conjunction that ends a list of three or more. For example: I bought bananas, apples, and oranges. The serial comma is the comma before the “and.”

In the above example, the comma probably isn’t even noticed, and if it were removed the context of the sentence would stay the same. But let’s give a different example.

I dedicate this award to my parents, Jesus Christ and God. Notice the ambiguity? Do I mean to say that my parents are Jesus Christ and God? Or do I mean that the award is dedicated to three separate entities: my parents, Jesus Christ, and God? The simple addition of the serial comma removes all confusion.

Some may argue that the serial comma should only be used in instances where confusion might occur, and that it should be omitted in any instance where there’s no room for ambiguity. However, as the writer of the above examples, I know what I meant when I wrote them. I know that my parents are not Jesus Christ and God, therefore not including the comma could make complete sense to me. In my mind, perhaps that second example leaves no room for confusion because it should be obvious that my parents are not, in fact, Jesus Christ and God. As such, the choice to only use the serial comma in some instances and not in others leaves the rule open to too much interpretation.

You will never come across an example where using the serial comma creates confusion. The original purpose in omitting the serial comma was solely for journalistic reasons, to save column space when writing for a newspaper.

At Aberdeen we provide captions and subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing community. When captions are scrolling past on your screen, there’s not often time to be able to stop and ponder what the meaning of a sentence was supposed to be; by the time you’ve figured it out, the caption is already long gone.

Would you be confused reading this sentence? Today I spoke to my mom, a pastor and a convicted murderer.

The next time you’re writing keep this in mind, because you don’t want people to have to wonder if your mom is a convict or not.

Written by: Jackie Blackwell, Caption Editor at Aberdeen