Thursday, July 14, 2011

To Punctuation, With Love

The serial comma suffered a serious blow the other day. The University of Oxford Public Affairs Directorate deemed it unnecessary. This disavowal carried weight because the serial comma (i.e. the comma before the "and" in a series of nouns, such as "dragons, unicorns, and were-llamas") is nicknamed the Oxford comma.

I like that a punctuation mark can have a nickname. I think I shall call semicolons Fred.

Fred is one of my favorite punctuation marks; he holds a special place in my heart... a place right between two independent clauses... :)

But I digress.

Anyway, I am a strong supporter of the serial comma. Think how its absence changes this infamous, yet apocryphal,
book dedication: "To my parents, Ayn Rand and God."

Really, though, I love all commas. And all punctuation. Commas, periods, semicolons, dashes, ellipses... they are the silence between the notes. Just as essential to the music as the sounds.

Do you have a favorite punctuation mark? What do you think about Fred?

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At 9:51 PM, Blogger Q said...

What?! No, I can't accept it. The Oxford comma is an absolute necessity. I won't change; I won't.

Good thing my lovely Chicago Manual of Style confirms that it should be used (except before an ampersand). Yes, I read the CMS for fun. What about it?

I like all punctuation. One of my former English teachers called punctuation "your gift to the reader" and I absolutely agree.

At 7:40 AM, Blogger Peni R. Griffin said...

The serial comma is a necessity, not a luxury! In many, many cases, its habitual absence creates ambiguity.

In fact, the carelessness so many people have about it has caused me to institute a second personal rule; if I have a list of entities, one of which is compound, I take care never to put the compound one last.

At 9:35 AM, Anonymous Liza Kane said...

I've tweeted out several comments bemoaning the "death of the serial comma" (those #serialkillers!).

The funny thing about Oxford's article: they DO say that in places where ambiguity exists, that the comma should remain. Well, no kidding!

I will continue to use the serial comma since it DOES have a place in reading comprehension (which is the rule and not the exception, like the article makes it seem it is.)

Also, I like Fred, just not in fiction ;)

At 3:27 PM, Blogger Jakob Dailes said...

The serial comma is SO not unnessecary! (Just like double-negatives! :D) Without it, how will anyone know if you're listing two people together or ending the list?

At 11:46 PM, Blogger Amy said...

I will never stop using the serial comma.

And I like Fred! Poor misunderstood guy..... in several recent graduate writing courses I took, I often explained Fred to my fellow graduate students who were mistreating him terribly. Sigh....

At 10:34 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Q: I've read the CMS for fun too. And once, in middle school, I read the phone book (searching for cool character names). :)

Peni: Its absence totally does create ambiguity. And changes the rhythm of the sentence.

Liza: Alas, poor serial comma! I knew him, a punctuation mark of infinite clarity, of most excellent fancy...

Jakob: Precisely!

Amy: Poor Fred. He suffers so.

At 11:58 PM, Blogger Ryecik Loom said...

I am, perhaps, a little too enamored of commas. And semi-colons. But really, it pretty much just irritates me when people don't use them correctly! Punctuation is there for a reason.
Sarah: I read gravestones for names. I've found some awesome ones, too. But I hadn't thought about using phone books . . . Hmm.
It could be amusing to make lists without serial commas. But I'd rather it be a joke than a rule, you know?


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