Serially Challenged and Frustrated With the Dysfunction

AP Stylebook, 2004 edition
Image via Wikipedia

Recently, while catching up on the back episodes of Grammar Girl, which I absolutely love, I was struck by the host’s opinion that the serial comma is a style choice.  Style choice…, as if!  For a grammar snob such as myself this can only mean that the lazy segment of the population that chooses to leave out the comma after the and in a series has no style.  For example: Amanda bought paint, brushes, and pastels from the art supply store. The new school of thought is that the final comma is not necessary.  Take a look:  Amanda bought paint, brushes and pastels from the art supply store. It is just ugly.

I performed a little experiment.    On a blank sheet of paper I typed the two sentences listed above.   I then distributed copies of the paper to six people: my literary agent, my local librarian, my sister, my teenage daughter, one of clients, and my neighbor.  I simply asked each person to tell me which sentence was constructed properly or makes the most sense.  Of the six, five picked the sentence which included the additional comma.  My neighbor, a teacher by trade picked the sentence without the comma.  He said it was unnecessary.  I thanked him and looked at his shoes.  I believe you can tell a lot about a person from their shoes.  As I suspected he had on sneakers with an oxford shirt.

I also went to Barnes and Noble this week to ogle over the recently released AP Stylebook.  All the debated grammar, abbreviations, and style choices would be solved by the AP Style Manual, I thought as I dashed to the reference section of the book store.   I’m not joking, I really did dash.  One of my repetitive debates has always been over the use of with and at. I’ve always believed that one can’t be frustrated at a situation; you can only be frustrated with a situation.  To my surprise, the AP Stylebook didn’t agree with me.  AP states that either word can be used (Associated Press, 2009).   And so began my search for a new favorite style manual.

I would be interested in anyone’s opinion regarding the use of at versus with when writing a sentence.  Isn’t at the enemy when expressing a thought within a sentence?  Is it debatable or should I let go of the past?  SM


Associated Press. (2009). APStylebook 2009. New York: Basic Books.

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