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Don't Kill the Oxford Comma!
Salon ^ | THURSDAY, JUN 30, 2011 | MARY ELIZABETH WILLIAMS

Posted on 07/22/2011 10:38:30 AM PDT by nickcarraway

The university hands down a new edict about punctuation -- but the world's grammar nerds will never back down

Grammar lovers today were saddened, shocked, and mightily displeased at the news that the P.R. department of the University of Oxford has decided to drop the comma for which it is so justly famed. As GalleyCat reported, the university's new style guide advises writers, "As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write 'a, b and c' not 'a, b, and c'." Cue the collective gasps of horror. The last time the nerd community was this cruelly betrayed, George Lucas was sitting at his desk, thinking, "I shall call him Jar Jar."

The serial comma is one of the sanest punctuation usages in the written language. It gives each element of a series its own distinct place in it, instead of lumping the last two together in one hasty breath. Think about it -- when you bake, you gather up your eggs, butter, sugar, and flour; you don't treat sugar and flour as a pair. That would be crazy. That is why, like evangelicals with "John 3:16" bumper stickers on their SUVs, punctuation worshipers cling to CM 6.19 – the Chicago Manual of Style's decree that "in a series consisting of three or more elements, the elements are separated by commas. When a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series, a comma is used before the conjunction." So valuable is that serial comma that it's on frickin' Page 2 of Strunk and White, right after the possessive apostrophe. And it is good.

There are those who disagree. The AP and New York Times eschew it, and everyone knows what a bunch of hacks that lot is. Here at Salon, meanwhile, I can now reveal that for years one of our great roiling internal tumults was over the serial comma. Our house style, imposed largely by the recently departed despot King Kaufman, was opposed to it. I am, clearly, violently in favor of it, and have spent the better part of the last 15 years enduring the pain of watching our editors systematically remove it from my stories. Oh, how it burns!

Why, in a world where "M I RITE?" constitutes a legitimate conversational volley, would anyone care about an Oxford comma? It's precisely because grammar -- don't even get me started on spelling -- has become so expendable that it's conversely become so precious. A friend tells of a text she got prior to a first date with a new man that read, "I'm looking forward to seeing you, too." As she puts it, "A comma before the 'too'? Nobody does that anymore. I saw that and thought, 'I'm in luuuuuuuv.'"

I'm not saying the serial comma works perfectly before every "and." It certainly shouldn't be employed if you're not describing a series -- hence the term. If you're discussing "my friend, a gentleman and a scholar" and you're using "a gentleman and a scholar" to characterize your friend and not two other people along for the ride, a comma there would be a bad idea. But for clarity in list-making, for that sweet pause of breath before the final item in a group, the serial comma cannot be topped.

It's true that Oxford's new punctuation guide is only for its P.R. department, and it comes with the clause that "when a comma would assist in the meaning of the sentence or helps to resolve ambiguity, it can be used." The university press, Oxford further hastens to remind us, remains "a commercially and editorially autonomous organization." But the prospect of the beloved Oxford comma being dumped by its own kin seems cruelly ominous. It's like Hugh Hefner saying he's no longer interested in blondes. And though you may think you've taken away our beloved little swipe of typeface this time, comma haters, the serial comma community is determined, tenacious, and resilient. We will keep sticking the comma into our sentences, and still sacrifice that one valuable character of our tweets in its service. We may still be reeling with denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, but you will never, ever have our acceptance.

UPDATE: In response to the outrage, Oxford University reassured distraught grammar fans today that its comma drama had been greatly exaggerated. Maria Coyle of the university's press office stated that the edict to eschew the serial comma was only for press releases and internal communication, and furthermore "is not new, it's been online for several years already." The Oxford Dictionary's site has also added a new blog post Thursday, reasserting its tough, pro-comma stance. New Hart's Rules live. Long live Hart's Rules.


TOPICS: Books/Literature; Miscellaneous; Weird Stuff
KEYWORDS: communication; english; grammar; oxfordcomma
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1 posted on 07/22/2011 10:38:34 AM PDT by nickcarraway
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To: nickcarraway

D A M M I T!

I just wrote a 15 page essay on the serial comma for a linguistics study I’m doing, and now this! I’m gonna have to talk to my advisor about this one.

/grammarNerdOff


2 posted on 07/22/2011 10:42:10 AM PDT by rarestia (It's time to water the Tree of Liberty.)
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To: nickcarraway

The horror is upon us.


3 posted on 07/22/2011 10:42:14 AM PDT by Liberty Valance (Keep a simple manner for a happy life :o)
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To: rarestia

Keep fighting the good fight!


4 posted on 07/22/2011 10:44:50 AM PDT by nickcarraway
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To: nickcarraway

Today’s lazy people no longer care about grammar(and darn little aboute grampa)!

Indiana has decided not to require cursive writing in school . But then I see more and more people who turn on a computer ,bring up Word, and then retrieve the printout from down the hall ,rather than sim,ply jot a brief note on a pad.


5 posted on 07/22/2011 10:46:01 AM PDT by hoosierham (Waddaya mean Freedom isn't free ?;will you take a credit card?)
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To: nickcarraway

Stupid idea. ‘a, b and c’ implies that ‘b and c’ together constitute some combined set that is analagous to the set a. ‘a,b, and c’ denotes three seperate sets that are each analagous to the other two.


6 posted on 07/22/2011 10:46:30 AM PDT by Thane_Banquo
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To: nickcarraway

I couldn’t sleep at night, worrying about dropping the comma years ago, hoping I would never get called on the carpet by my editor. Oh, what a relief, it is.


7 posted on 07/22/2011 10:48:02 AM PDT by Eastbound
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To: nickcarraway
Who gives a **** about an Oxford Comma?
8 posted on 07/22/2011 10:49:09 AM PDT by Constitution Day
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To: nickcarraway

The comma: Always a hot topic in the Publication’s world - I had to get cured of my excessive comma abuse many years ago - now I hardly ever use them - hyphens and dashes are like Methodone to me now..........


9 posted on 07/22/2011 10:50:06 AM PDT by Psalm 73 ("Gentlemen, you can't fight in here - this is the War Room".)
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To: nickcarraway
What a silly, pointless, and unnecessary edict. I've gotten into so many arguments regarding that comma over the years that I refuse to give it up!

Apples, oranges, and pears.

Apples and oranges, pens and pencils, and cakes and pies.

10 posted on 07/22/2011 10:50:38 AM PDT by Teflonic
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To: nickcarraway

I learned to drop the comma before the word “and” while in college journalism courses. Of course, this was contrary to my previous writing education that used the Oxford serial rule so it was a hard convention to break. Later, in graduate school, I had to re-learn the serial comma when using APA style for writing course papers. My right middle finger gets twitchy now when typing any serial list.


11 posted on 07/22/2011 10:50:52 AM PDT by T-Bird45 (It feels like the seventies, and it shouldn't.)
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To: nickcarraway

I have used the Oxford comma my entire life (never knew it had a name though) and will continue too regardless of what Oxford thinks about it.


12 posted on 07/22/2011 10:51:28 AM PDT by apillar
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To: Eastbound

How did Oxford come to own the comma in the first place ?


13 posted on 07/22/2011 10:52:44 AM PDT by Eric in the Ozarks (Eh ?)
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To: nickcarraway

This comma use change will not shake the foundation of language. I will certainly divide “wonks” on what is correct for the next 50 years. I will be long dead before this change is so entrenched that it is in 100% use. I think it may NEVER be in use, people propagate what they learned, and I learned the serial comma. Most English professors and teachers will stick with what they know. Serial comma will be learned for a long time.


14 posted on 07/22/2011 10:53:00 AM PDT by King_Corey (www.kingcorey.com)
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To: Thane_Banquo

I sooo agree!!! Dropping the comma is stupid.


15 posted on 07/22/2011 10:53:03 AM PDT by MrShoop
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To: nickcarraway

Well screw Oxford, Cambridge, and Harvard.


16 posted on 07/22/2011 10:53:26 AM PDT by Paleo Conservative
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To: Thane_Banquo

Good point. I find that makes for easier reading, since it’s obviously a list of similar elements.


17 posted on 07/22/2011 10:53:38 AM PDT by LearsFool ("Thou shouldst not have been old, till thou hadst been wise.")
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To: nickcarraway

I am so glad I’m not an editor or an English major..I would be on anxiety meds.


18 posted on 07/22/2011 10:53:52 AM PDT by Earthdweller (Harvard won the election again...so what's the problem.......? Embrace a ruler today.)
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To: Liberty Valance

Yes, along with the use of an apostrophe to indicate the plural of a noun, as in “cantaloupe’s” or “hand grenade’s.” Arrrrgh!


19 posted on 07/22/2011 10:54:12 AM PDT by Noumenon (The only 'NO' a liberal understands is the one that arrives at muzzle velocity.)
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To: nickcarraway
"We may still be reeling with denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, but you will never, ever have our acceptance."

I would suppose that the comma after the word, bargaining, would be proper, as the words are not related. But if they were related, like in 'anger and despair, you don't need the comma.

20 posted on 07/22/2011 10:54:58 AM PDT by Eastbound
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To: nickcarraway
I don't remember who said it, but, one president admonished his secretary to, “stop wasting the taxpayers commas”.

I'm a comma abuser but I pair the last two items sans comma as the American response to British tyranny.

21 posted on 07/22/2011 10:54:58 AM PDT by outofsalt ("If History teaches us anything it's that history rarely teaches us anything")
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To: nickcarraway

somebody has too much time on their hands...


22 posted on 07/22/2011 10:55:13 AM PDT by camle (keep an open mind and someone will fill it full of something for you)
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To: hoosierham
"...computer ,bring up Word, and then retrieve the printout from down the hall ,rather than sim,ply jot a brief..."

"Hi, my name is hoosierham, and I'm a puctuation abuser...."

23 posted on 07/22/2011 10:55:26 AM PDT by Psalm 73 ("Gentlemen, you can't fight in here - this is the War Room".)
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To: nickcarraway

I was always taught never to use a serial comma, and never have. Glad to see the People Who Are In Charge Of Such Things came around to my way of thinking. :D

That said, unneeded punctuation can lead to grammatical aberrations such as: “Angry constituents told United States Senator, Harry Reid, to go jump in the lake.”

Eschew unneeded commas. Your keyboard will thank you.


24 posted on 07/22/2011 10:55:46 AM PDT by Colonel_Flagg (You're either in or in the way.)
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To: nickcarraway

They came and took away the commas but i did nothing because I wrote run-on sentences and had no need to separate my thoughts and ideas so my pillow is very comfortable. Then they took away the period but I did nothing because I only twittered - then they took away capitalization but i did nothing because i was a fan of a a milne butnowtheyhavetakenawaymyspacekeyandthereisnoonetohelpme


25 posted on 07/22/2011 10:56:15 AM PDT by InvisibleChurch (In loving memory of Abraham Lincoln, 1809 - 1865)
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To: Colonel_Flagg
I was always taught never to use a serial comma, and never have.

Except for that one. :)

26 posted on 07/22/2011 10:56:33 AM PDT by Colonel_Flagg (You're either in or in the way.)
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To: hoosierham
I've actually seen a resurgence of proper grammer lately. Five years ago it was common on most forums to see lazy "texting" posts with no capitalization or punctuation everywhere but now it is rare to find even a misspelling.

People are too afraid to come across as dumb and uneducated and hence discounted so were forced to learn to write properly.

27 posted on 07/22/2011 10:56:44 AM PDT by Teflonic
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To: nickcarraway

Going on geek overdrive...(warning, C++ ahead)


http://www.cplusplus.com/doc/tutorial/operators/

Comma operator ( , )
The comma operator (,) is used to separate two or more expressions that are included where only one expression is expected. When the set of expressions has to be evaluated for a value, only the rightmost expression is considered.

For example, the following code:

a = (b=3, b+2);

Would first assign the value 3 to b, and then assign b+2 to variable a. So, at the end, variable a would contain the value 5 while variable b would contain value 3.


28 posted on 07/22/2011 10:57:38 AM PDT by ctdonath2 ($1 meals: http://abuckaplate.blogspot.com/)
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To: nickcarraway

I personally have never used the “Oxford comma”.


29 posted on 07/22/2011 10:57:41 AM PDT by BreezyDog
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To: InvisibleChurch

Step away from the keyboard...


30 posted on 07/22/2011 10:59:30 AM PDT by ctdonath2 ($1 meals: http://abuckaplate.blogspot.com/)
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To: nickcarraway
Molon Labe!
31 posted on 07/22/2011 11:00:52 AM PDT by Slings and Arrows (You can't have Ingsoc without an Emmanuel Goldstein.)
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To: Eastbound

OoPS. I meant to say ‘bargaining and depression’ needs a comma because the words are not related in the sentence.


32 posted on 07/22/2011 11:02:08 AM PDT by Eastbound
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To: Paleo Conservative

How about the possessive apostrophe “s” for names or words ending in the letter “s”? Who said it was proper to write “Williams’s”, as in belonging to the Williams family? The proper way is Williams’. No second “s”. To me, as someone who has a last name ending in “s”, the former will never be correct. The nuns made sure I remembered that one, and God bless them. Perhaps elementary schools should go back to diagramming sentences.


33 posted on 07/22/2011 11:02:41 AM PDT by cumbo78
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To: nickcarraway

Has — taken the place of ;.
Some people -.
Others—.but,;gives me fit’s.


34 posted on 07/22/2011 11:08:05 AM PDT by right way right
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To: nickcarraway
I am shocked, appalled, and disgusted!

Lamh Foistenach Abu!
35 posted on 07/22/2011 11:08:13 AM PDT by ConorMacNessa (HM/2 USN, 3/5 Marines RVN 1969 - St. Michael the Archangel defend us in Battle!)
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To: nickcarraway

,


36 posted on 07/22/2011 11:10:03 AM PDT by ken21 (liberal + rino progressive media hate palin, bachman, cain...)
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To: nickcarraway

I’ll try again.

Has — taken the place of ;?
Some people -.
Others—.but, ; gives me fit’s.


37 posted on 07/22/2011 11:10:17 AM PDT by right way right
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To: nickcarraway

A subject near and dear to your English major heart.

I remember being taught the ‘new’ style way in grade school but as I got older I took up the Oxford style they now want to dump for exactly the author’s point about distinguishing elements versus pairings.


38 posted on 07/22/2011 11:11:14 AM PDT by Flying Circus
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To: Psalm 73
hyphens and dashes are like Methodone to me now.

LOL. Me too.

Don't forget about that good old security blanket...the elipsis. I love that sucker.

39 posted on 07/22/2011 11:12:53 AM PDT by Bloody Sam Roberts (If you think it's time to bury your weapons.....it's time to dig them up.)
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To: hoosierham

I don’t claim to be a expert on Granmma.
Cuz, I know it will tic off Gramps.

Do you ever used Craiglist ads? Very entertaining and sad at the same time.


40 posted on 07/22/2011 11:14:48 AM PDT by right way right
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To: Psalm 73

hangin head in shame....


41 posted on 07/22/2011 11:15:46 AM PDT by hoosierham (Waddaya mean Freedom isn't free ?;will you take a credit card?)
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To: Thane_Banquo

Exactly! I always used a comma in that space. The dumbing down of the planet continues in earnest.


42 posted on 07/22/2011 11:16:51 AM PDT by thefactor (yes, as a matter of fact, i DID only read the excerpt)
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To: nickcarraway

Dropping the comma before ‘and’ has been allowable for 40 years — depending on which usage guide one uses. It isn’t a new concept.


43 posted on 07/22/2011 11:18:18 AM PDT by TomGuy
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To: Constitution Day

Lawyers for one thing are very particular about commas. A comma used or not used can very significantly change the interpretation of a contract for one example.


44 posted on 07/22/2011 11:19:50 AM PDT by Hootowl99
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To: nickcarraway

Gratuitously deleting the final comma in a series is yet another example of what I decribe as, Greshem’s Law of Grammar: Bad grammar drives out the good.

Despite decades of witnessing the horror of the new usage, even in newer school grammar books, I’ve never brought myself to follow this clearly foolish trend that obfiscates meaning. Oxford should maintain the King’s English rather than defer to the devolutionary grammar of the colonies.

Reading the Oxford decision, I haven’t felt this linguistically betrayed since the U.S. debut of the ubiquitous, long-running, grammatically-influential advertising jarring ditty, “Winston tastes good, like [sic] a cigarette should.”

Kicking out the clarifying, parallel comma is kicking out a supporting wall of Western civilization.


45 posted on 07/22/2011 11:21:35 AM PDT by Seeing More Clearly Now
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To: Eric in the Ozarks

“How did Oxford come to own the comma in the first place ?”

They agreed to renounce the use of the tilde and umlaut, and traded two semi-quavers for it in the early years of the twentieth century, in an obscure clause of the Balfour Declaration. Like so many things in history, it seemed like a good idea at the time.


46 posted on 07/22/2011 11:25:44 AM PDT by Attention Surplus Disorder (Both sides need to put aside the partisan bickering, & work out how much free stuff I get)
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To: apillar

Amen. That’s exactly what I posted. What a bunch of noisey bodies with nothing better to do. Wow...


47 posted on 07/22/2011 11:26:06 AM PDT by cubreporter (From TEA to Shining TEA - Go Rush Limbaugh..a giant of all that is good.)
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To: T-Bird45; Peter W. Kessler; mickie; Bob Ireland; gonzo; Matchett-PI; JulieRNR21; mcmuffin
I was an associate editor for a magazine publishing house back in the day.

I never used, nor do I use now, a comma before the "and".

For instance, I write, "I love oranges, apples and pears.".....or..... "Bill O'Reilly is a socialist, liberal, progressive, populist and statist gas bag."

Many moons ago I borrowed exclamation points from freeper Pete Kessler, and though I have used them profusely, abundantly and frequently over the years I still have many left. I LUV exclamation points! Thanks, Pete!

Punctuation marks, like paragraphs, are our friends!!!

Leni !

48 posted on 07/22/2011 11:26:07 AM PDT by MinuteGal (We need ObamaCare Like Nancy Pelosi Needs a Halloween Mask)
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To: nickcarraway

I find that comma to be unneeded personally.


49 posted on 07/22/2011 11:29:20 AM PDT by GeronL (The Right to Life came before the Right to Happiness)
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To: nickcarraway

Eats, shoots & leaves.


50 posted on 07/22/2011 11:37:04 AM PDT by loungitude ( The truth hurts.)
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