Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Oxford comma

It's unusual for grammar to be in the news, but there's a bit of a fuss at the moment about the Oxford comma which, it has been reported, is about to be abandoned by Oxford. As it turns out, the story isn't quite so clear cut, but that hasn't stopped a Twitter backlash. I'm rather fond of the Oxford comma, but grammar seems to bring out the pedantic worst in a great many people.

Anyway, the fuss reminded me of a story I had published a few years back in Defenestration, a rather good ezine. This is it:

Four horsemen of the apostrophe

It has been reported that the Oxford comma may be about to become extinct. The last known sighting was in a reprint of the works of Alfred, Lord, and Tennyson, and doubt reigns as to whether this was, in any case, merely a typographical, historical, and literary error.

A spokesman for Pedants Anonymous said: "I think the last time one was seen was back in the days of bakelite radios, ration books, and black, and white televisions."

Aldus Manutius Jnr., editor of "Inferred and Implied Fusspottery", concurred. "I think what is happening is that the Oxford commas are being kidnapped to be re-used in completely spurious plural form's. It's diabolical. The perpetrators should be hanged by their possessive pronouns and have rotten tomato's, fish, and chip's pelted at them."

Concern has also been raised over the long-term viability of the semi-colon. Mister Manutius continued: "Once, it had a rich and varied life, it was used in long, compound sentences, it was used to link two independent clauses with no connecting words, this helped to make the meaning clearer. They were seen the length and breadth of the country, in Lands' End, Cornwall, John o Groat's, Highland, and every town, hamlet, and village, in,between."

His hand's shaking and sobbing, he continued, "It is inevitable that the colon will follow suit. What will happen is this, it will be replaced by a sloppy, comma. We will completely forget that colon's have four uses, to introduce list's, separate related sentence's, commence quotations' or introduce appositives. And lets face it, even I don‟t know what those last one's are any more. It make's you weep."

At this point, Mr Manutiu's began to break down, much like his grammer. And speling. And, like, everything man. He raised a hypothetical glass to the influence's in his life, his parents, Big Bird and Joseph Conrad. Much good they did him, he thought. Issuing a clarion call for clarity he continued "woman without her man is helpless. And you cant say clearer than that."

"I would question that," replied his wife. "Except I gather there are question mark's about the future of question mark's because of the idiotic use of the Australian raised inflection at the end of sentence's? Suggests question mark's where there shouldn't be? Render's them meaningle'ss?"

"Whatever" said sadly Aldus Manutius.

In a final blow for grammarians, pedant's, and bureaucrats' everywhere, it has been reported that; because of the spread of chatrooms: speech mark's are also on the verge of extinction.

Mr Manutius was unable to comment directly, but is reported to be mad, furiou's, and livid.


Vanessa Gebbie said...

This, is utterly brilliant. By the way,

Ryan Brock said...

Your a genious when it comes. To grammar. Thanks for the post! Check out my like-minded response on The Stage, a liloQui Blog:

Jim H. said...

Nice. Whats an appositive anyway?

I recently swore allegiance to the Oxford comma on my blog (bottom of the page, EULOGY ch. 1). And took some heat for it in Comments.

Also, I've finally finished up my take on Canetti's Auto-da-Fe. I know we'd chatted about it earlier.

Tom Conoboy said...

Thanks all.

Jim, an appositive (I pontificate, having just been on Wikipedia)is a grammatical construction in which two elements, normally noun phrases, are placed side by side, with one element serving to define or modify the other. For example:

Amy Winehouse: the tragic singer.

Hope the European trip goes well.