Monday, March 3, 2014

On the sexy topic of Junior, Senior, and commas

So, I'm in the middle of copy editing a novel for this phenomenal author (not to name drop, but it's Ksenia Anske! Squee!). In her novel, Rosehead, one of the character's names is Panther Bloom Junior. It's Lilith's pet whippet, who also happens to speak. Throughout the novel, Ksenia did not use a comma to offset the title Junior; whereas my inclination was to use one, based on what I thought I remembered of the rule. As in: Panther Bloom, Jr., or Panther Bloom, Junior. (Note: Ksenia writes out Junior in her book instead of using the abbreviation Jr.)

You may be wondering: why worry about a comma?  

Because that's how it used to be. (Yes, I said "used" to be.) Traditionalists will remember a time when a comma DID precede Junior and Senior; a comma also came after the title if the sentence continued.  

Example (old-school style):
Panther Bloom, Jr., was the runt of the litter.
Or: Panther Bloom, Junior, was the runt of the litter.      
Or: The award for most faithful companion goes to Panther Bloom, Jr.

HOWEVER, roman numerals to indicate generation were not offset by commas, and still aren't. Reginald Maximillian St. Regis III was the richest of his brothers.

As you may have realized, rules can change with grammar and punctuation. For traditionalists/purists, sometimes we like to hold on tightly to our "old" rules, because that's the way we learned them.

But according to The Chicago Manual of Style, the comma rule for Junior and Senior is no longer in vogue. They see it as part of, and therefore an extension, of the name itself. And really, it simplifies things for the reader by streamlining the clean line of the sentence. (The rule changed with the fifteenth edition; you can find the rule in the sixteenth edition at 10.19.)

While I'm all for using commas to clarify a sentence (fan right here of the Oxford comma!), sometimes, the best reason to do away with an antiquated rule is to maintain readability and flow.

After all, punctuation is a way to make a reader stop, pause, stutter, shout, or keep on going, smooth and uninterrupted. And sometimes, too many commas simply junk up a sentence when overused.

Bottom line: DITCH the commas when using Junior and Senior!