Comma love

I'm a nerd, the first to admit it, so I'll admit enjoyment of columns about heated controversies over grammar.  I'll even declare my true colors right up front:  I like and use the Oxford comma.  Lawyers mostly don't, so I've never been in the habit of quarreling over it when riding herd on vast swarms of lawyers all collaborating on the drafting of documents that can go into the thousands of pages.  All that ever was particularly important to me was that we pick a rule, any rule, and then try to stick to it throughout the document.  Which comma rule?  I decline to argue the point, or the choice between "data is" and "data are."  Actually, the Nate Silver piece adopts the view that surely makes the most sense:  take a poll.

Now, who would have thought that the Oxford comma would win the linked poll?  General reading suggests that it's almost dropped out of common use, something of interest--per the  article--only to people passionate enough about grammar that they're willing to describe themselves as "expert."

You might describe me as a language atavist.  I rarely split an infinitive in writing, or even dangle a participle, and I still make the distinction between "may" and "might" that has almost completely disappeared from modern English.  I haven't yet taken up the craze for "zhir" or "zhwangi" or whatever it is, and I'm really grumpy about the kids on my lawn, or I would be if I had a lawn and there were any kids within a mile or so.


Anonymous said...

I'm a firm believer in the Oxford comma. But I try not to split infinitives. I have been accused of overuse of semi-colons, though. *shrug* I think in phrases. It is probably a relic of reading and writing so much in German.


Texan99 said...

"I'm a firm believer in the Oxford comma. But I try not to split infinitives."

You say that as though right-thinking people wouldn't agree with both! :0)

Anonymous said...

The answer is simple: Zero is less than one.

ONE: The number of ways in which an unknown reader WITH Oxford-comma training can possibly misread a sentence that LACKS an Oxford comma.

ZERO: The number of ways in which an unknown reader WITHOUT Oxford-comma training, can possibly misconstrue a sentence that, HAS an Oxford comma.

Zero is less than one. Oxford wins every time.

(Extraneous commas added to the second sentence were intentional, for demonstrative effect.)

E Hines said...

My second strongest pet peeve (trailing only missing Oxford commas) is what follows a colon in the middle of a sentence (pardon my redundancy). Contrary to the nonsense put out by the Chicago Style Manual, a colon is not a period; [see what I did there, LR?] it does not end a sentence. The word immediately following a colon does not get capitalized unless it happens to be a proper noun or other word that's capitalized in its own right.

Full stop.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

I also like the Oxford comma, although I sometimes drop it if I'm being informal. I did like the joke about the different comma systems:

Standard: I bought three eggs, ham and cheese.

Oxford: I bought three eggs, ham, and cheese.

Shatner: I, bought, three, eggs, ham, and, cheese.

Texan99 said...

Good one!

jaed said...

General reading suggests that it's almost dropped out of common use

IIRC, the AP style guide bans the Oxford comma. I wonder how much influence that has on people's perceptions of its commonality, considering how much edited writing (newspapers, magazines, academic writing, etc. etc.) is edited according to the AP guide.