I was amused by a post on the Candlekeep forum by a fan of R.A. Salvatore who was distressed by something he read in an interview posted on the Powell’s Books website:

Or, on the flip side, I sit on the beach at Ka’anapali (Maui) with my beautiful wife, Chi Chi, in hand.

This fan, who had read of Bob’s long and happy marriage to the lovely Diane Salvatore, was stunned by the reference to his “beautiful wife, Chi Chi.”  What happened?  Did Bob remarry, and if so, was this midlife change reflected in his creation of the character Dahlia to replace Catti-Brie, the life-long love of the dark elf Drizzt, Bob’s signature character?

Uh, no.  Minus the promiscuous use of the comma, this comment reads like this:

Or, on the flip side, I sit on the beach at Ka’anapali (Maui) with my beautiful wife, Chi Chi in hand.

One could, with justification, argue against the logic of keeping a wife by any name “in hand” at a Hawaiian beach.  Had the fan read this sentence a second time, he probably would have picked up on this, and may also have realized that Chi Chi is a vodka-laced fruit smoothie, not a trophy wife. But the purpose of punctuation is to add clarity so that no one has to stop reading and unpack the syntax.

The Strippers, JFK, and Stalin cartoon* is a popular online meme. It’s one of my favorite arguments for the Oxford Comma.  But even the commas whose SAT scores consigned them to some state university can add clarity and, occasionally, save lives.

“Time to eat, Grandma!”
“Time to eat Grandma!”

 

You’re welcome, Grammy.

*(Artwork original source)