The Montgomery Burns Comma


(Or should that be Burns’ or Burns’s?) Thank you to my friend Jesse Nasta for inspiring this post.

So Montgomery Burns dies. Sorry, Harry, you lost a character. MB might return from the afterlife but seldom. He leaves a will. In a dream world Homer would inherit everything but awaken on an island surrounded by sharks with no chance of escape.

MB was of questionably sound mind when he made the will and left the money to Homer’s kids. MB is also in reduced circumstances  because of lawsuits over poisoning Springfield and Homer’s screw ups so the estate is only worth $10 million.

The document is duly witnessed but not read in a booklined study because that only happens in movies. It reveals the following: “I give, devise, and bequeath the entirety of my estate to Bart Simpson, Lisa Simpson and Maggie Simpson.”

A probate judge awards $5 million to Bart, while Lisa and Maggie receive $2.5 million each.

Of course Lisa and Maggie sue – using up most of the money in lawyers’ fees. The result stands because there was no comma between Lisa’s name and Maggie’s. The judge points to the insertion of the comma between “devise” and “and” to support the theory that MB knew what he was doing.

This scenario is based on an actual case, though I don’t recall whether there was a third comma in the boilerplate. The example  made my English Comp class pay attention to details – at least for the first couple of weeks.

The serial or Oxford comma, inserting it before the “and” or other conjunction for the last item in a series, remains the subject of fierce debate. Journalists omit it, a throwback to days of print. Tossing all those commas saves trees.

I’ve been inconsistent in the extreme, veering between omission and inclusion. In fact I’ve found mistakes in both my books.

On an unrelated topic, I’m tempted to edit the image to omit one “m” but won’t.

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