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Errors and / or Omissions, The Oxford Comma...

Discussion in 'off topic' started by Darmok, Jan 27, 2020.

  1. cctaylor

    cctaylor pfm Member

    I think 3m are being issued on Friday with another 7m later. That's only one for 1in 6 of us.
  2. glancaster

    glancaster In the silicon vale

    There is grammar and there is style.

    Grammar rules apply to everyone using the language. Writers normally try to stick to them.

    Within grammatically correct writing, there are many different styles. This is more a matter of just picking one reasonable approach and sticking to it, as inconsistency can look messy and disorganised. Publishers, newspapers, and other organisations often have their own style guides. The longer ones include both style and grammar rules.

    The Oxford comma is particularly associated with Oxford University Press. Their style guide (https://global.oup.com/academic/authors/author-guidelines/house-style/?lang=en&cc=ch) mandates its use (see the 'Serial or Oxford comma' section).

    Here is Oxford University's style guide: https://www.ox.ac.uk/sites/files/oxford/media_wysiwyg/University of Oxford Style Guide.pdf . You can see what they have to say about the Oxford comma on page 13: only use it to prevent ambiguity.

    Presumably, some style guides ban Oxford commas completely. Without the Oxford comma in the armoury, the following sentence would have to be rephrased

    I invited my parents, Sue and James.

    because it isn't clear whether Sue and James are my parents or additional invitees. (This example should satisfy @vuk, as he can't use semantics to compensate for the syntactic ambiguity. I'm assuming he doesn't know who my parents are.)

    Kind regards

    - Garry
    vuk, deebster and Sue Pertwee-Tyr like this.
  3. NeilR

    NeilR pfm Member

    I don’t come to the uk that often these days, but if i get given any i’ll chuck them in the metal recycling bin and donate £1 to charity for each one i take out of circulation.
  4. Spike

    Spike pfm Member

    “I'd like to thank my parents, Mary and God"


    "I'd like to thank my parents, Mary, and God"
  5. Mike Reed

    Mike Reed pfm Member

    I'll go with that; it has its uses, but infrequently.

    This just sounds wrong without an apostrophe; nor does it prevent ambiguity, i.m.o. If you transposed 'Sue and James' with 'my parents', there's no ambiguity and the comma is optional, although preferable.
  6. Mike Reed

    Mike Reed pfm Member

    These days at least, the comma is simply a pause; a semi-colon is to introduce a separate point on the same theme (and therefore a longer pause) and a colon is to introduce a list (or bullet points, I s'pose). The full stop finishes that thought, requiring a capital letter to initiate a new thought. One important aspect of writing is the paragraph, to denote a separate topic/theme/aspect of the same essay. This shouldn't be too long and must be separated from the preceding one.

    There is a tendency nowadays (on forums, at least) to make paragraphs into quasi bullet points. This is a bit weird and not part and parcel of accepted writing, although it often makes for easier scanning/reading.

    If I'm confronted by a long, rambling one para. piece, I immediately give up, esp. if it's not properly punctuated and spaced. Others manage, so maybe it's my age or eyesight !
  7. glancaster

    glancaster In the silicon vale

    With Oxford comma: I invited my parents, Sue, and James.
    Rearranged: I invited Sue, James and my parents.

    Both unambiguous, although I think the rearranged version is most clear.

    Nowadays, I can't be bothered to think about when to use an Oxford comma or when not to, so I always do (unless I forget). That way there is at least one potential source of ambiguity that will not exist in my writing. Just one small thing less to worry about.

    Kind regards

    - Garry
  8. vuk

    vuk \o/ choose anarchy

  9. Mike Reed

    Mike Reed pfm Member

    Agreed, but the first example is clunky. If Sue and James had not been the parents, I'd advocate 'along with' Sue and James. Anyway, I'm beginning to feel commatose. :)
    darrenyeats likes this.
  10. Joe P

    Joe P certified Buffologist / mod


    The em dash can be used to set off a list. It can be used to indicate a break in thought. It can be used for all kinds of things.


    You can even use the em dash to make a guy doing a meh —


    ff1d1l, darrenyeats and Hook like this.
  11. Hook

    Hook Blackbeard's former bo'sun.

    I was taught to use the Oxford comma to separate a list of phrases.

    In the case of: “I know Tom, Dick and Harry.”, I do not use it.

    In the case of: “I know Tom is in the kitchen, Dick is in the living room, and Harry is out running errands.”, I use it.

    No clue if this is correct, but I like the way it looks and reads.
  12. Sue Pertwee-Tyr

    Sue Pertwee-Tyr pfm Member

    I'm completely with you on this. If the person doesn't know enough, or care enough, to make at least an attempt at basic structure and punctuation, I've come to learn that their outpourings can usually be safely ignored.

    It's just too damn difficult to read something like that and the chances that you'll misconstrue something are correspondingly higher, so given that there is usually no shortage of content vying for my attention, I just move swiftly on.
    Darmok, deebster and Mike Reed like this.
  13. Nero


    Are they magnetic? That could be a solution. It'll divert those pesky Romanian fruit pickers from taking out the pike for supper. Oh no, I forgot, we're sending them back. Do we grow our own poor people from now on?
  14. myles

    myles Intentionally left blank

    Children are not magnetic; no. Unless you feed them iron filings in their gruel.
  15. KrisW

    KrisW pfm Member

    I've been a technical writer and editor in my time, although never as my sole job title, and I generally do use the Oxford Comma in my writing - except for those situations where I don't, of course. But if I may put my editor's hat on for a moment, I have to agree with Mr Pullman... my problem with the coin text is that, as written, it encourages a nonsensical parse. Here's the text:
    • "Peace, Prosperity and Friendship with all Nations"
    This looks fine, because you sort of know what it's trying to say, but it's ambiguous. The problem is that the inscription mimics a very common structure in English sentences, where a list of nouns form the subject of the sentence, and rest of the sentence is considered to apply equally to each of them, such as:
    • "Oats, nuts and bran in our cereals"
    "Oats, Nuts and Bran" forms the subject, and "in our cereals" is the common tail (yeah there's no verb; neither is there one on the coin). Expanded, that's "Oats in our cereals, nuts in our cereals and bran in our cereals".

    Because the coin inscription's structure appears to follow this pattern, it tempts you to make the same expansion. But if you do that, you get:
    • "Peace with all Nations, Prosperity with all Nations and Friendship with all Nations".
    .. well, as that bloody song says, two out of three ain't bad: nobody with fluent English would ever wish a country "Prosperity with all Nations".

    But now, put in the Oxford comma, and the message becomes:
    • "Peace, Prosperity, and Friendship with all Nations."
    ..and now it's clear we're not dealing with a group subject, but instead wishing for three separate things: "Peace", "Prosperity" and "Friendship with all Nations". All lovely sentiments, all expressed clearly.

    Okay, I've put far too much thought into this now, I know... but it was only ten minutes or so, and I would have hoped that before striking twenty million coins with the text on it, someone with a solid grasp of English would check it.

    Long, dense, rambling paragraphs like that are also a sign that the writer hasn't properly organised their own thoughts, so you're doubly wasting your time. Even if you put the effort into understanding what's written, there's a fair chance that what you end up with was not what the writer meant to say in the first place, or worse something that manages to contradict itself, leaving nobody any the wiser.
  16. Bob McC

    Bob McC Living the life of Riley

    or use a bit of common sense

    I’d like to thank Mary, God and my parents.
  17. KrisW

    KrisW pfm Member

    However, the order was conveying meaning in that sentence, and by changing it, you've now changed who the author says they feel most grateful towards: it used to be their parents, but now it's Mary.

    As an exaggerated example, consider what the list order says here: "Last night I was talking to this crazy guy named Phil who breeds llamas, Prince Charles, Alice's sister Janet and our local milkman". (As a bonus, there was no Oxford comma needed there, so none was added)
    Spike likes this.
  18. Joe P

    Joe P certified Buffologist / mod

    “Last night, I was talking, to, this, crazy guy, named Phil, who breeds llamas, Prince, Charles, Alice's sister Janet, and our, local milkman,” Captain Kirk said before deploying his wall of destruction move on an Andorian.

    That looks right to me.

    Wolfmancatsup likes this.
  19. KrisW

    KrisW pfm Member

    Proper Kirk delivery would require a pause between "breeds" and "llamas", too.
  20. Mike Reed

    Mike Reed pfm Member

    There comes a time when commas, whether Oxford or not, don't quite do the trick. In the above case where you have a relative pronoun phrase describing Phil, I'd substitute the succeeding comma with 'along with' or something similar (together with, etc.).
    KrisW likes this.

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