The Oxford Comma is your friend

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Via twitter:

Some earlier commadic fun: "Merle Haggard's ex-wives", 10/24/2010; "Visual aid for the final serial comma", 9/18/2011.

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14 Comments »

  1. G said,

    December 10, 2013 @ 7:58 pm

    Seems an appropriate way to mark the passing of an 800-year-old demigod and dildo collector.

  2. Jeff said,

    December 10, 2013 @ 8:23 pm

    G:
    "That was disrespectful" was my first thought.
    Being curious though, I did some Google. I knew he wasn't 800, but I did wonder about the other thing. Oxford comma fail, it was.

  3. D.O. said,

    December 10, 2013 @ 10:16 pm

    But what does … mean in the twitterverse?

  4. Lugubert said,

    December 10, 2013 @ 10:28 pm

    I had to read the Twitter thing four or five times until I, aided by the "Oxford comma" heading, realized where the assumed problem was. In Swedish, that comma is absent, if not even directly discouraged. So, I automatically, I suppose (I'm absolutely no psycholinguist), parse any enumeration to make sense out of it.

    When translating from English, I can often resolve ambiguous lists by juggling the order of items, or for the ", and" use a synonym for "and", which fortunately is available to us.

  5. Paul Power said,

    December 11, 2013 @ 3:05 am

    I think English needs another form of printed "and", to handle complicated cases where you have "and" used to link items in a main list where the items are sometimes themselves lists e.g.
    "the balloons were coloured green and blue and yellow". I'm trying to convey that the balloons were either green or blue and yellow. I'd like to propose the use of & as a standard to link subitem lists e.g. "the balloons were coloured green and blue & yellow".
    This would also work in the above case.
    I know this is wishful thinking but it would spare some confusion.
    (BTW the example is not the best )

  6. Frans said,

    December 11, 2013 @ 5:40 am

    @Paul Power

    I'd like to propose the use of & as a standard to link subitem lists e.g. "the balloons were coloured green and blue & yellow".

    For me, that's already a convention of sorts in informal writing.

  7. GeorgeW said,

    December 11, 2013 @ 6:37 am

    Rush Limbaugh will be all over this.

  8. Faldone said,

    December 11, 2013 @ 8:00 am

    This is not an argument for the Oxford comma, merely another example of a case where using the Oxford comma would make sense. If anything it's an argument for not blindly following some rule (AP vs. CMoS) stipulating that you must or must not use the Oxford comma. Lugubert's comment makes the most sense.

  9. Jason said,

    December 11, 2013 @ 9:24 am

    I'm not sure I agree Faldone. Why does reordering a list make more sense than simply using 1 character? It seems more effort to reorganize thoughts so that they can be expressed without need of an oxford comma. Why put forth extra effort to save one character? I jokingly tell people that we must be running out of commas for people to put forth such effort to remove 1 keystroke.

  10. languagehat said,

    December 11, 2013 @ 9:32 am

    If anything it's an argument for not blindly following some rule (AP vs. CMoS) stipulating that you must or must not use the Oxford comma.

    You apparently do not realize the function of a style guide. You might as well talk about "not blindly following some dictionary."

  11. Belial said,

    December 11, 2013 @ 12:03 pm

    I believe there is a conventional meaning to the distinction between 'and' and '&' in Hollywood movie credits – one will frequently see something like "Screenplay by John Jones & Mary Miller and Sam Smith" meant to indicate something or other which I don't know.

  12. Dave O said,

    December 11, 2013 @ 1:58 pm

    @ Belial: it means the first two were writing partners, and the 3rd person did additional writing at a different time.

  13. MaryKaye said,

    December 11, 2013 @ 2:21 pm

    I believe I use such a distinction in spoken English: if the balloons were red and green-and-blue (which is how I would write it) I'd pronounce the first "and" something like "und" and the second "-and-" something like "n", and much more run together with the adjacent words.

    It doesn't work at all with the sentence at the head of this post, though; only with compounds like "green-and-blue".

  14. James M. Goodell said,

    December 13, 2013 @ 1:08 am

    How about "the balloons were coloured green or blue and yellow"?

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