The editing question I get more often than any other is about the Oxford—or serial—comma. No, this is not the Ted Bundy of punctuation. It’s the comma that precedes the word “and” in a list, as shown in this sentence: What do the Boston Strangler, Hannibal Lecter, and Jack the Ripper have in common?
The serial comma, like most punctuation, can be a grammatical lifesaver. Imagine this book dedication, sans serial comma: To my parents, John Lennon and Madonna. Is this a case of “Imagine” (no possessions) meeting the “Material Girl,” or has a serial comma gone missing? “Help!”
Using a serial comma in a sentence-style list is the favored construction in American English. One notable exception is in the press. Newspapers and other media outlets surely save gobs of ink, newsprint, and pixels by eliminating all those pesky commas. But for the rest of us, while the serial comma is not always needed to achieve an unmistakable meaning, its consistent use is generally helpful and always correct.