Published 2020-05-20Camilla 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.
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.