I’m not prone to grammar and punctuation policing, mostly because I’d be throwing stones from my glass house. But, a recent visit to a Pennsylvania diner got me thinking about commas and the like.
Scanning the menu, “Bacon Sausage” caught my eye! I wondered what bacon sausage was? It sounded awesome! Then I realized that the anticipated awesomeness that I was about to order was the result of a missing comma. Bummer.
In the diner’s defense, I get what they were trying to say, and they may have even discussed this when putting the menu together. How does one clearly separate groups of choices?
What they really want to say is, “You get two eggs and toast no matter what. Then you can add to that either bacon, sausage, or ham. And we’ll also give you either hash browns or home fries.”
But as it was listed, it looked like I could choose this thing call “Bacon Sausage”… which seriously had me intrigued. Also, it wasn’t clear if you only got toast if you chose hash browns. After looking at the other menu options, I guessed you’d always get the toast , but this was way too much work early in the morning to put the puzzle together.
You could add the extra commas, but then it would get really confusing:
Two Eggs, Bacon, Sausage, or Ham, Home Fries or Hash Browns, and Toast
The computer programmer in me would go right to parenthesis:
twoEggs && (bacon || sausage || ham) && (homeFries || hashBrowns) && toast
I suppose semicolons would be the answer (although I’m not sure that’s even technically grammatically correct).
Two Eggs; Bacon, Sausage or Ham; Home Fries or Hash Browns; Toast
It would probably be best to throw in an Oxford comma after the sausage to be clear that you don’t get “bacon” and “sausage OR ham”:
Two Eggs; Bacon, Sausage, or Ham; Home Fries or Hash Browns; Toast
There. That looks pretty good. And that’s fine and all, but what I really want is that thing called bacon sausage!