一點之差

All morning I worked on the proof of one of my poems, and I took out a comma; in the afternoon I put it back.
── Oscar Wilde

我不寫英文詩,但因工作關係,經常要 proofread 英文稿件,這當中的問題要是全部拿出來談,大概可以寫滿厚厚一本書,也許以後有機會再看看。這裡我想提出的小問題,就有這樣的奧妙。

標點符號在英文裡有比較嚴謹的使用規範,不像中文,相當大的成分是標註語氣。長久以來,我認為項目的列舉,最後 and之前的逗號必須標上,如:a, b, and c。這個規範的根據來自 The Elements of Style 這本經典,這本書最早在 1918年由 William Strunk, Jr. 寫成;1959 年再經 E. B. White 修訂,1970年代與 1990 年代各有修訂,最後才有今日流通的 4th edition。

Stephen King 在談寫作的書 On Writing 裡,特別寫了一篇短短的文章當成 Second Foreword 盛讚這本 The Elements of Style 的價值。那麼這本經典談到 items in list 的逗號用法如何說明呢?

In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.
thus write,
red, white, and blue
honest, energetic, but headstrong
He opened the letter, read it, and made a note of its contents.
This is also the usage of the Government Printing Office and of the Oxford University Press.
In the names of business firms the last comma is committed, as
Brown, Shipley and Company

雖然有這樣的說明,可是假如你不小心翻閱了 Michael Swan 的 Practical English Usage ,卻看到:

We can use comma to separate items in a series or list. A comma is not usually used with and between the last two items unless these are long.
例句:

I spent yesterday playing cricket, listening to jazz records, and talking about the meaning of life.

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