COMMAS. Once again, the president has been gifted with a new turn of phrase and he's taking it on the road with him. On Tuesday, talking about the war in Iraq, he told an audience in California:

You know, it must seem like an eternity to you, when you think about those elections last December. It certainly does to me, in some ways. Ultimately, when this chapter of history will be written, however, it's going to be a comma. The Iraqis voted for freedom -- comma -- and the United States of America understood that Iraq was the central front in the war on terror and helped this young democracy flourish...

Not surprisingly, the president got the grammar wrong. A comma is incorrectly used when the word "and" is used to join equal and coordinate elements of the same sentence. You don't need a comma before "and" in that sentence. Occasionally, however, you do need a comma before "and." Usually, that is what is called the "serial comma," which is back in vogue with grammarians (as it should be). Here is an example:

"According to the Department of Defense, Aaron Seal, Chase Haag, Justin Peterson, Denise Lannaman, Christopher Consgrove III, Mario Nelson, Joe Narvaez, Michael Oremus, Satieon Greenlee -- comma -- and eight other members of the United States military were killed this week in Iraq."

Hope that helps.

--Charles P. Pierce

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