Of Cats And Dragons

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Defense of the Oxford Comma

Published 2020-05-20
Camilla Ochlan

Since Carol mentioned the Oxford comma in the last blog, I thought I'd say a little more about this little punctuation rule.

When I first encountered the Oxford comma, I understood that it was optional. I don't know if my teacher meant to convey that thought, but that's how teenage Camilla understood it. And, for whatever reason, I decided to just never use the Oxford comma. Too much effort for a thing that is not needed -- so I thought.

I stayed consistent in my anti-Oxford comma belief for a long time.

This explanation of the rule changed my mind:

Let's say somebody writes a will and want to leave everything they own to their three children -- let's call them Bob, Sue, and William.

Here are our two options:

Everything I own will be distributed equally between Bob, Sue, and William.

Here, it is clear that each of the children gets an equal third.

Or option 2:

Everything I own will be distributed equally between Bob, Sue and William.

In the second example, couldn't someone's lawyer argue that Bob will get 50% and Sue and William will split 50% of the inheritance?

Or, could you imagine Omen giving a plate of cookies to Tormy, Tyrin and Kyr? The horror! Tyrin would have a lot to say about not getting his $#%@ fair share.

Of course, I leave the Oxford comma out on purpose sometimes to make the point that the last two items go together.

They found rooms for Templar, Shalonie, Omen and Tormy.

pencil and paper

Here it should be clear that Omen and Tormy are sharing a room.

As far as it goes, I think of grammar rules -- even tiny, seemingly insignificant ones -- as tools. And I hope they lead the reader, subconsciously, to a clearer understanding. But if you're looking at the grammar when you're reading a book for pleasure, you're probably missing the story.

On the other hand, I was absolutely floored by Cormac McCarthy's grammar rule-breaking in The Road. To me, his choices made the frame of the piece another character in the story and conveyed the chaos and deterioration of his world. Of course, McCarthy can do that.

This leads me to what my teenage writer self didn't realize: grammar is actually fun.

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Carolyn said about Defense of the Oxford Comma: Reply

Before I finalized my eBook, I had three different editors read it. So far, so good, right? Hum, I had sent modules and the whole through Word 7's review multiple times. I then started using the free version of Grammarly. After submitting the entire book through free Grammarly, I still had 300+ errors. I finally bought the use of the program for one year, on sale at about $90.

My most common mistakes still today are as follows. The writer has the option of ignoring the rules. Since I leave Grammarly on all the time, my errors are in more significant numbers than they would be if I proofed before engaging the use of Grammarly. I type as I compose. I suggest letting the muse work for content, subject matter, and the thought process without interruption, and then, correct for grammar.

Before someone asks, I am not affiliated with the program Grammarly; however, my syntax has improved with its use. My online reviews are better-written expressions of my thoughts on the writer's work. In effect, I have an online editor.

Here is part of the generated last week's usage report. At least this past week, I didn't write in the dreaded past tense; therefore, my style has improved somewhat.

1. Missing comma in a compound sentence Learn More 92 alerts

2. Comma splice Learn More 52 alerts

3. Missing article Learn More 51 alerts

Fortunately, the mistakes are offset by

PRODUCTIVITY You were more productive than 99% of Grammarly users. 81,365 Words checked

MASTERY You were more accurate than 91% of Grammarly users. 521 alerts noted

VOCABULARY You used more unique words than 99% of Grammarly users.

Carol Leever replying to: Carolyn

I feel your pain!!! But kudos on the high marks. That's impressive.

I'll tell you our fun Grammarly story. We go over our books many times, separately and together. When we're pretty certain it's 'clean', we load it into Grammarly and do a final check.

Consistently Grammarly flags a certain word as 'wrong'. According to Grammarly we must never use the dreaded word "thought". There can be NO THINKING allowed in our stories. Every use of that word MUST be changed to "though". As in "Omen had a clever though about his cat" rather than "Omen had a clever thought about his cat". We've tried to figure out what Grammarly's issue is (I'm a programmer so I tried to guess at the algorithm), but no luck.

Needless to say we have spent a great deal of time THOUGHING about that issue.

Camilla Ochlan replying to: Carolyn

Not to mention all the "fun" Grammarly has with Tormy's and Tyrin's dialogue.

Alan said about Defense of the Oxford Comma: Reply

Hello Camilla,

My father was an English Major, of course it was long ago.

He always told me that he never used the Oxford comma because, way back then, he was instructed it was inappropriate to ever use a comma before the word and in a sentence list.

Thus I never use an Oxford comma, but I see your point. It makes sense, but like you stated, its optional and up to the writers style.

I can see how it can confuse the purpose in certain situations though.

I wish I could talk to my father about it as he was a stickler about punctuation, spelling and especially grammar.

Unfortunately I cant communicate with him normally now because of his very poor health and brain problems.

But youve given me food for thought.

Ive never been very good writing English, I can only hope people understand what it is Im trying to convey.

Thank you Camilla. Say hello to Carol for us and please tell that her art is coming along great!

Shell be a professional in no time.

I hope shes feeling well and doing well.

Take of each other and all your loved ones.

This Pandemic has just gotten started.

Best wishes!

Sincerely,

Brittany McDonald and on behalf of my father, Alan.