Commas are on a mission to take over the page. They must be stopped.
I recently read the first in the Lemony Snicket tales, A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning. I found it quite an enjoyable tale woven with some skill by the good Mr. Snicket. However, reading it filled me with annoyance over something that is wreaking havoc on pages all over the globe: the profusion of the superfluous comma.
Most of the additional commas present in this first tale are not meaning manglers. The jist ought to come through relatively unscathed. Nonetheless, in our own writing we must consider the superiority of the Gertrude Stein aproach over the I-want-a-pause-here approach.
For an interesting, fun, and informative analysis of comma usage take a look at Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference!. (The title of which contains at least two critical comma-altered meanings.)
For the complete Gertrude Stein position on Commas I can highly recommend The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Damned near required reading, that. Or you could sample some of this if you’re more for brevity and not so much interested in the lives of Toklas, Stein, Picasso, Matisse, and friends.
Why should I make such recommendations? If we are to defeat the enemy, we must know the enemy.
What I have to say about commas is merely to keep them sparse. If the comma is not required for meaning or clarity then get rid of it. We have come to the point where if a conjuction appears in a sentence we are near certain to see it preceded by a comma, like the Duchess’ cook in Alice cracking black flecks over our clean white pages. Madness, I tell you.
Thank you for your indulgence.