Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: Punctuation rules!

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Punctuation rules!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The news was shocking. To me, at least. Well, apparently to quite a few other people, too. A snarky piece in the HuffPo said that, ho hum, the serial comma is out and who cares.

The news was that Oxford University had updated its style guide and was discontinuing use of the serial comma, also known as the Oxford comma. This is the comma that comes--or not--before a conjunction in a series of three or more: e.g. red, white, and blue instead of red, white and blue. Or eats, shoots, and leaves.

News of the demise comes just as I am hearing the term Oxford comma for the first time. It’s a very good upgrade, I think, since serial has those unfortunate connections with words like “killer.” Though there’s always “serial drama,” which I like.

Whatever it’s called I think it’s a good idea. It just makes grammatical sense. There’s a symmetry in the way it looks on the page. And there’s a nice sense of pacing. It sounds, in your head, the way you’d say it. It doesn’t rush you to the final element. Will we need to say it faster without the comma?

The article is followed by a string of comments, some of them irate and one of them mine (“it’s a good day when people care so much about punctuation”). And many people were all a-Twitter about it.

You can also see a video of a song called “Oxford Comma” by the rock group Vampire Weekend. I’m learning a lot. And I also see that the Oxford comma is sometimes called the Harvard comma. How could I not have known that, right here in 02138 in the shadow of the Great University itself?

Anyhow, I have to apologize for upsetting you. Turns out to be a cruel hoax. Relax. Stand down. Oxford University issued a statement that, contrary to reports, no change in its policy on use of the serial comma is planned. Except maybe to start calling it the Harvard comma?

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Anonymous Luise said...

In fact, OUP simply changed its internal PR dept. procedures for press releases, since newspapers do not use a serial comma. As an editor of long standing, I am a true believer and fight the good fight with my authors as necessary (and usually win).

I trust you've heard the classic example of the need for the comma: "I want to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God."


June 30, 2011 at 3:50 PM  
Blogger Ellen Steinbaum said...

Yes, a comma-dy classic. And thanks for the background on the Oxford situation.

July 4, 2011 at 3:53 PM  

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