So after I posted about the serial comma this morning, I did a little research. Wikipedia has a surprisingly comprehensive article on the serial comma. It turns out, the two schools of thought on using a serial comma comes down to this:
If you write using a journalistic style, you learned there is no comma before the “and” in a series. If you write using any other style, you learned to add the comma.
To expand on that, leaving the comma out seems to have come about as a reaction to limited column space in newspapers. Every character counts, therefore, that comma can go. It’s a space issue. It’s an expendable comma when you need to save space. This sentiment is most widely known from the AP Stylebook. On the other hand, The MLA Handbook, The United States Government Printing Office, The Chicago Manual of Style, The Elements of Style, and well, many others, all say use the comma.
To refer to my cousin’s comment, yes there are times when adding the comma makes the sentence more confusing. And in those situations, all of those style manuals would say leave the comma out, OR (and perhaps with slightly less laziness) rewrite your sentence.
Leaving the comma out can cause confusion, as well. Perhaps you remember the best seller, Eats, Shoots and Leaves? Lest we forget Pandas do not kill and runaway…
So at the end of the day, I have decided, that yes, there are books to back up not using the comma, but there are as many or (really) more that say to use the comma. So until I am told to use the AP Stylebook, or I start writing for The New York Times, I am going to consider myself correct.
(I do love that I got long, interested comments about this topic though, so please continue to comment on it!)