Trendy punctuation and the death of the serial comma

This post isn't going to be so much instructional as it is a rant. Every good blog needs a rant once in a while.

When I talk about trendy punctuation, I’m not talking about the Oxford Dictionary releasing a text-speak version of their tome. There's certainly a place for colloquialisms, but we’ll deal with that another time. I'm talking about someone up in the cloud deciding punctuation rules for the masses.

What bugs me about grammar trends is they don't perform the job of punctuation, that is, to act as signposts for the reader. 

Take for instance the serial comma, affectionately known as the Oxford or Harvard comma. (Can’t you just picture this comma in a high-backed, silk-upholstered chair?) A serial comma comes after the conjunction (*and) in the list below:

Nick Jonas has dark hair, mysterious eyes, *AND does photo shoots in bathrooms.

In this simple case, you could drop the comma before “and does photo shoots in bathrooms” and a reader would still be able to follow what you are getting at. But I’ve read way too many complicated sentences, especially in technical or government reports, that sacrifice the serial comma and consequently lose the integrity of meaning.

Why do they do this? Because getting rid of commas has recently become cool.  Maybe somebody thought commas were too prolific, too highbrow, too controlling on the writer's part. The result is a comma wasteland. For example, I would often come upon a sentence like this:

It would be in the minister’s best interest to synthesize the functions delegated to the department and agency currently operating in two separate capacities in order to maximize efficiency, cost effectiveness, return of resource output and profit and loss according to the most recent annual budgets released by both groups.

This sentence is hard to read. I don't like it, and it happens all the time because bureaucrats are told, for some reason, to avoid the serial comma.  In some cases, the serial comma is essential in legal writing, as in:

When Elizabeth Taylor died, she gave all of her money to her favourite Canadian figure skaters: Kurt Browning, Brian Orser and Elvis Stojko.

In the example above, it looks like old Liz might have favoured Kurt and given him a bigger share, with Brian and Elvis splitting the other half. It is often newspapers that don't use the serial comma, originally to save space. Here's an interesting piece from a Globe-and-Mail grammar rebel to argue against my case.