Sunday, July 10, 2011

Changing the rules

 The times are a-changing.

We found out last week that the Oxford comma is no longer necessary. And the publishing industry scrambles, adjusting to the new rules. 

The Oxford comma is the serial comma. "I went to the dog park with our dogs, Vinnie, and Lucky."  In this sentence, you know I took our dogs plus 2 other named creatures (in this case, two non-resident dogs named Vinnie and Lucky). The Oxford comma tells you that Vinnie and Lucky aren't our dogs, but friends who went with us. 

Without the Oxford comma, the sentence would read "I went to the dog park with our dogs, Vinnie and Lucky." 
OH NO, when did we get two more dogs? No wonder Sophie looks worried... 

The Oxford comma isn't named for the Oxford dictionary but for Oxford University. It was used by the writers,editors, and printers at Oxford University Press. Until last week, the Oxford (serial) comma was correct in our 'American English' (per "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves" by Lynn Truss (pg. 84). But several style manuals have ignored the serial comma for years (IE, the AP manual). Even the Brits who don't go to Oxford dislike the serial comma.

So now we are in a quandry. Do Vinnie and Lucky belong to us? Or are they just friends, riding along to the dog park? Does Sophie need to worry about her domain? Can this house stand two more big dogs tromping through the hallways, sleeping on the doggy beds(,) and eating the dog food? 

My favorite reason for keeping the Oxford (serial) comma is clarity. When Aunt Bella died, her will stated, "I leave my $5 million dollar estate be divided equally to Betty, Freddie, Barbie, Jim and Susie." Should Jim and Susie be one entity, or are they separate? Is the $5 million to be divided among five or four? 

This is serious, folks. Jim and Susie might just be you someday. 
Sophie is assured that Vinnie and Lucky are non-resident carpool companions.
But are you sure you'd get your share of $5 million?

10 comments:

altadenahiker said...

Long live the Oxford comma. Strunk and White believes in the serial comma, and I believe in Strunk and White.

Cyndi and Stumpy said...

More dumbing down... It won't be long before text speak is acceptable everywhere.

Banjo52 said...

Your examples are great. They really show some reasons for the old rule. For several years now, I've wondered where the hell that comma's been going.

Thérèse said...

I am glad because I hardly used it, not using it in my native language... ;-)) I had to be very careful when I took my Cambridge exam a long long time ago...
but I presume a lot a people must be mad and they are right, I would have been too and I show my solidarity.

Elaine said...

They need to keep that comma! Even if it's been out of vogue for a while to use it, I am old enough that I still use it because I think it's needed. Besides, I really want my fair shrae of the $5 million!

Pasadena Adjacent said...

hmm
I thought both versions implied that the dogs belonged to you. The will, no such luck.

Sandra said...

this will not bother me since I have never heard of it and never used it. i would read that you took two dogs and that was their names. very interesting news and lovely portraits of your pup

Ashley said...

Who knew the comma could have so much controversy! You make a very good point. I love grammatical stuff like this, although have not followed current "rules." Seems in the day of texting and emailing, all of the rules have gotten looser, making a lot of statements open to different interpretations.

Kathy said...

I have been trying to teach young court reporters for years the advantages of serial commas, and most of them just stare blankly when I broach the subject!

Saija said...

leo is always aghast when reading the newspaper - he can't believe how the rules of grammar are ignored ... wait till it all starts to read like a tweet!