Monday, 25 October 2010

The Oxford Comma

From Jeff Weintraub, the one-too-few comma problem.
The documentary was filmed over three years. Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall.

As opposed to the one-too-many comma problem.

Like Mr Weintraub, I don't understand why the final serial comma has fallen out of favour.

It is also known as the 'Oxford comma'.
The Oxford Style Manual, 2002, Chapter 5, section 5.3 Comma

For a century it has been part of OUP style to retain or impose this last serial (or series) comma consistently, [...] but it is commonly used by many other publishers both here and abroad, and forms a routine part of style in US and Canadian English. [...] Given that the final comma is sometimes necessary to prevent ambiguity, it is logical to impose it uniformly, so as to obviate the need to pause and gauge each enumeration on the likelihood of its being misunderstood – especially since that likelihood is often more obvious to the reader than the writer. (pp. 121–122)

Promote disambiguation!

8 comments:

Luna said...

LOL! I love me the Oxford comma. I am annoyed by its fall from grace.

When I was teaching, I used this example:
"I'd like to thank my parents, Mr. Rogers and Big Bird, for being such a huge influence on me during my formative years"

Niles said...

r u crs? Disambiguation is too big a word for texting.

These days, comprehension and parsing is the job of the reader, not the writer. If you find yourself laying in a metaphoric ditch with a frontal lobe blowout after tripping over a spike belt sentence, hazards of the game, eh?

Of course, it seems to lead to a great deal of 'but what s/he *meant* to say was X, not the BS s/he wrote, so stop picking on her/him, you librul meanies'

This tends to go along with 'out of context, what are you talking about, out of context, it's right there on the page!

Social media at least (presently) requires basic literacy. We might need to be thankful for that. It's not like the present 'official' media sources are fighting for truth, justice and the literate way.

Skinny Dipper said...

I'm more into "A cowboy rode a horse wearing a big cowboy hat."

fern hill said...

Good example, Luna. :D

brassworks said...

Kind of an odd combination of parents, but if it's OK between Mr. Rogers and Big Bird, I'm in no position to argue.

Most grammar is not being taught today anyway; why bother with that comma?

I love (read: hate) seeing the last serial comma used, but after the last item before continuing with the sentence: "The landscape boss ordered that the leaves, twigs and branches, to be raked up into piles for disposal."

And what's with putting an apostrophe into every plural out there? How possessive is a bunch of banana's, anyway?

I could go on, but I'm only preaching to the choir.

fern hill said...

I have a friend who teaches at a post-secondary institution. While she doesn't teach English, she'll circle spelling mistakes and if there are a lot of them, dock the student a couple of marks. The kids complain: 'But I ran it through spell-check!'

I think the homonyms (it's and its, their/there/they're, your/you're) are forever fucked now. Nobody gives a shit.

And yeah, brassworks, the so-called grocer's apostrophe. Don't get me started. . .

Dr.Dawg said...

I'm for deep-sixing the Oxford comma.

"A cowboy rode a horse wearing a big cowboy hat."

Problem there is a dangling participle.

"I'd like to thank my parents, Mr. Rogers and Big Bird"

The judicious addition of "and" before "Mr. Rogers" disambiguates perfectly.

"I think the homonyms (it's and its, their/there/they're, your/you're) are forever fucked now. Nobody gives a shit."

I do.

Reminds me of the schoolchild puzzle:

Ceasar entered on his head
A helmet on each foot
A sandal in his hand he had
His trusty sword to boot.

fern hill said...

Obviously, I give a shit about the homonyms too. I just think there's a critical mass of people who don't or don't know there's anything to pay attention to. Just a while ago, at Google News, I saw a first sentence from MSM paper (Calgary Herald?) with grocer's apostrophe for a plural. That stuff used to be embarrassing. Not any more.

You are right about getting around the serial/Oxford comma, but why? When it's so handy.

Well, for them's as pay attention to little squigglies.

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