The One Without Any Vampire Weekend Gags

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I couldn’t let it go uncommented on really, could I? The whole world seems to have gone crazy about the Oxford Comma. Well, there’s a big hashtag on twitter about it. Even the Guardian has picked up the story.

So what’s it about, and why should we give…no, I said I wouldn’t. The Oxford comma is otherwise known as the serial comma. It’s the comma that goes before the and at the end of a list. For example, “I went shopping and I bought melons, chocolate spread, and condoms.” That last comma is an Oxford on, missing in “I went shopping and I bought melons, chocolate spread and condoms.”

Oxford commas can be handy for avoiding confusion. Suppose you were a journalist and you’d been invited to Number 10. Suppose further you were a dog lover and you’d heard a rumour that the PM was one too. In such an instance you may find an Oxford comma helpful for clarity before you wrote the sentence, “I’m looking forward to going to Number 10 to meet David Cameron’s poodles, Nick Clegg and Vince Cable.”

So why the fuss? Well, it seems that the Oxford University website has advice on it that informs people NOT to use Oxford commas. And the world is up in arms (it beats worrying about Afghanistan, global warming or malaria I guess). Is this some secret Cantabrigian conspiracy?

Well, no, it would seem. All is well. This isn’t style guidance for Oxford University Press and academic writers. This is just for penpushing administrators who write press releases and internal memos. And suddenly it seems all is well.

Now, whether you give a fuck about an Oxford comma or not (I knew I couldn’t resist it), AS a penpushing administrators who writes memos, maybe even a press release, I can’t help feeling that the *somewhat* patronising implication of this “resolution” is possibly worse than the original accusation.


~ by danholloway on July 2, 2011.

4 Responses to “The One Without Any Vampire Weekend Gags”

  1. I’m stil giggling at the mental story conjured by your shopping list to care about that comma much.
    I got given a book a few Christmasses ago, a parody of the infamous Eats Shoots and Leaves, called Eats, Shites and Leaves and am thinking of having it as a reference book at work……but I couldn’t be that evil to my students, now, could I? Hmmmmm….

  2. Hey Dan,
    For the record… what it’s worth… Around 35 years ago (in Australia) I was taught NOT to use a comma before ‘and’ at the end of a list. In practice I use it only when it is necessary… I wouldn’t want to suggest Dave has poodles called Vince and Nick. Would I? That would be silly. And rude.
    I like how language and grammar changes and has a liquidity in the hands of certain writers/speakers and I can’t usually get worked up about the evolution of usage, meanings and so on.
    But the point you make here is important. Just exactly who are we being precious for?
    Sorry: on whose behalf are we being precious?
    Or should that be…?
    Oh you do it, you push pens. I’m an artist, I can do what I like.

    (Sent with a Big Wink.)

  3. The world in general doesn’t insert a comma with the ‘and’ at the end of a list. This is because the comma is used in a list to replace ‘and’, so as not to have to keep repeating it. Therefore, when ‘and’ is used at the end of the list, the comma isn’t needed there.
    Some time ago (sorry, don’t have the date in my head) someone at Oxford started putting in the extra comma. Everyone else still thought this was unnecessary and incorrect, so this usage became known as ‘the Oxford comma.’ In other words, only weirdos at Oxford thought it was necessary.
    Colin Dexter, in his Morse books, a pedant if ever there was one, drew attention to ‘the Oxford comma,’ and for once didn’t disapprove of what is, in fact, an incorrect usage.
    Since The Company of Fellows is set in Oxford, I suppose this is quite an appropriate subject for your blog, Dan. Otherwise, I would probably agree with your implied comment on the whole question. (See para. 2 first sentence, and start of last para.)
    Mind you, the post is fun to read – writers have to enjoy this sort of thing, don’t we?

  4. Gerry, I thought it would have been wholly inappropriate for a blog such as this not to say something on the matter 🙂

    Federay, there is nothing so precious as an academic writing for other academics!

    Viv, we have that book too 🙂

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