16 March 2017

Oxford comma court case

Language circles are buzzing with articles and comments on a recent court case in the USA that was decided on the basis of punctuation and more specifically the use of the so-called Oxford comma. See, for example, An Oxford comma changed this court case by AJ Willingham, CNN (updated 16 March 2017) or
Oxford comma helps drivers win dispute about overtime pay
by Elena Cresci.

One of my high school English teachers, a Welshman named Jones would you believe, often said that this was bound to happen one day. So, Mr Jones, it looks like that day has come.

What I found astounding is that many Americans who write about this and similar topics seek categorical black & white rules. A J Willingham ends her article saying:
(All of you Oxford comma purists out there, go ahead and gloat. We'll have you know CNN adheres by AP Style, which does not include the mark.)
So the Chicago Style Manual says use it, always, while AP Style "does not use the mark".

I prefer to do what Mr Jones used to do, namely use it when you, or your readers, need it and don't when you don't. What's the matter with old-fashioned logic and hard thinking?

Elena Cresci's article includes the following.
The Guardian style guide has the following to say about Oxford commas: a comma before the final “and” in lists: straightforward ones (he ate ham, eggs and chips) do not need one, but sometimes it can help the reader (he ate cereal, kippers, bacon, eggs, toast and marmalade, and tea).
Sometimes it is essential: compare
I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis, and J K Rowling.
with
I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis and J K Rowling.
Precisely the approach I recommend and try to use.

25 April 2017

Under the heading The ambiguous Oxford comma, Sentence first -- an Irishman's blog about the English language -- also prefers analysis to dogma.

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