Humorous Serial Comma Examples – Are They Genuine or Apocryphal?

Ayn Rand? R. M. Bevensee? Merle Haggard?

Question for Quote Investigator: Consider the following list of four items: octopus, pineapple, pencil, and kangaroo. The final comma is referred to as a serial comma, and some style manuals argue that it should be omitted. This comma is also called an Oxford or Harvard comma. The omission of serial commas occasionally leads to hilarious results. Here are three examples I have seen:

(1) Book dedication: Dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.

(2) His global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.

(3) Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall.

The first example suggests that the author was the product of a union between a famous philosopher and a deity. In this comical interpretation, the phrase “Ayn Rand and God” functions as an appositive which provides a further description of the noun “parents”. Hence, one parent is Ayn Rand, and the other parent is God.

The other two examples also engender ludicrous interpretations. Did a naïve writer construct any of these statements? Which of these statements was crafted by a humorist?

Reply from Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI for the first statement appeared in the 1964 book “Electromagnetic Slow Wave Systems” by R. M. Bevensee who was an Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering, University of California Berkeley. The dedication was written on four lines, and the author employed a serial comma. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[ref] 1964 Copyright, Electromagnetic Slow Wave Systems by R. M. Bevensee (Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering, University of California Berkeley), (Dedication page of book), Unnumbered Page, John Wiley & Sons, New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref]

This Book is Dedicated to
my parents,
Ayn Rand,
and the glory of GOD

QI conjectures that the lines above inspired an unknown person to construct an apocryphal shortened comical version without the serial comma.

The other two examples appeared in newspapers in 1998 and 2010. There was no evidence that these two statements were deliberately crafted to be humorous.

Additional information is available in the Quote Investigator article on the Medium website which is available here.

Image Notes: Illustration of three commas.

Exit mobile version