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Oxford Comma Example
Posted: 12 November 2011 09:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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A consistent style aids the reader. If the punctuation is constantly varying, the reader has to focus on the punctuation and not the message or the prose. And in an ambiguous case, the reader can often rely on the consistent style to help determine what is meant.

As far as house style goes, it’s probably less important for a book publisher to maintain a consistent style among different writers than it is for a magazine, newspaper, journal, or website, where you have pieces by many different writers in close proximity. But for academic presses, it’s really aids the reader to have a consistent style even among different books. It really speeds comprehension to have a single style that is used throughout a number of works.

And when I’ve had my writing professionally copy edited, I’ve found that the a significant percentage of the suggested changes were highly beneficial; the majority were minor improvements, a small number I deemed to be pointless, but went along with them anyway because I didn’t care; and occasionally a suggestion ran counter to what I wanted, and in those cases my will as writer prevailed.

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Posted: 13 November 2011 07:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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I have commented before that in those instances where my writing has been professionally copy edited I have found about a quarter of the changes to be beneficial, a small (but vital) number to be far worse, and the bulk to be pointless.  Any insertion or deletion of Oxford commas falls solidly in the “pointless” category.  I don’t worry about it one way or the other, but I do wonder that the copy editor has so much time on his hands that he has no better use for it.

This kind of thing is very annoying for a copyeditor to read, especially the last sentence.  It is my job to impose house style; my employers don’t mind my fact-checking, looking up quotes, and so on—the kind of thing you would doubtless consider beneficial—but that is not what they pay me for (I do it because it enhances my job satisfaction).  The fact that you don’t understand it is a fact about you, not about the world of books; I don’t understand ballet, but I don’t go around saying ballet is crap and the money spent on it is wasted and should be put to better use.  A little intellectual humility wouldn’t come amiss.

Edit: Sorry if I sound cranky, but I don’t like being told my job is worthless.

[ Edited: 13 November 2011 08:04 AM by languagehat ]
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Posted: 14 November 2011 10:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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I agree with languagehat.  Education, after all, is supposed to encourage independence of thought and precision in writing and speech.  But sometimes even those who have the best education may - just may - be wrong.  Casting blanket aspersions is, sadly, often due to arrogance, ill-informed and ill-advised.  Education isn’t finite - it’s an ongoing process and humility is often one of the most difficult things to learn. I’ve been extremely grateful to my army of critics along the self-publishing road.

[ Edited: 14 November 2011 10:49 AM by ElizaD ]
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Posted: 14 November 2011 04:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Dave Wilton - 12 November 2011 09:24 AM

A consistent style aids the reader. If the punctuation is constantly varying, the reader has to focus on the punctuation and not the message or the prose.

I would say that, in general, you would have to focus on the punctuation to even notice that the Oxford comma was not being consistently used.  I’ve been reading some Smithsonian articles and in three articles I’ve seen three instances of lists that could have an Oxford comma, two in one article and one in one of the others.

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Posted: 20 November 2011 07:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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The point - THE point - about style guides, and house style is that having a consistent imposed style stops every editor who gets hold of a piece of copy changing things to his/her preferred version, only for the next editor to change it back because their personal preference is for something else. The more changes that are made to copy - I’m sure LH will agree - the greater the chances that errors will be introduced into that copy. So style guides are there to reduce the number of corrections that might otherwise be made to a piece of copy as it goes through the system. This need to have an imposed consistency to prevent constant meddling with copy as one editor alters the revisions of a previous editor is something, I have noticed, that the principals at Language Log don’t seem to understand. Any benefits to the reader of a consistent style are incidental to the advantages of eliminating time-wasting successions of changes (which, of course, in the days of metal typesetting, and printers on piecework, could be money-wasting as well) and cutting out the opportunity to introduce errors and typos that every fresh edit brings.

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Posted: 21 November 2011 08:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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That hadn’t occurred to me before, but it sounds quite sensible.  As a graduate student and postdoc I was often caught up in such editing conflicts between senior co-authors of my papers.

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Posted: 15 March 2017 10:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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https://qz.com/932004/the-oxford-comma-a-maine-court-settled-the-grammar-debate-over-serial-commas-with-a-ruling-on-overtime-pay-for-dairy-truck-drivers/

“A Maine court ruling in a case about overtime pay and dairy delivery didn’t come down to trucks, milk, or money. Instead, it hinged on one missing comma.”

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Posted: 16 March 2017 01:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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when a thread develops about a subject which doesn’t interest me, I prefer to suppress the impulse to post a deprecatory remark, and just leave the thread alone (I can, after all, mumble deprecatory remarks to myself for hours, without disturbing anyone).  The only thing that really upsets me on this forum is when people start squabbling.

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Posted: 16 March 2017 02:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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OP Tipping - 15 March 2017 10:54 PM

https://qz.com/932004/the-oxford-comma-a-maine-court-settled-the-grammar-debate-over-serial-commas-with-a-ruling-on-overtime-pay-for-dairy-truck-drivers/

“A Maine court ruling in a case about overtime pay and dairy delivery didn’t come down to trucks, milk, or money. Instead, it hinged on one missing comma.”

This article has come up in a Facebook post and one of the commentors claims to have actually read the opinion.  He reports that while the presence or absence of the serial comma was considered it was not a factor in the final decision.

The District Court concluded that, despite the absent
comma, the Maine legislature unambiguously intended for the last
term in the exemption’s list of activities to identify an exempt
activity in its own right. The District Court thus granted
summary judgment to the dairy company, as there is no dispute
that the drivers do perform that activity. But, we conclude
that the exemption’s scope is actually not so clear in this
regard. And because, under Maine law, ambiguities in the
state’s wage and hour laws must be construed liberally in order
to accomplish their remedial purpose, we adopt the drivers’
narrower reading of the exemption.

Note also that in the District Court’s reading the lack of the serial comma does not give us an understanding that would differ from the understanding that would result from the presence of a serial comma.

[ Edited: 17 March 2017 02:09 AM by Faldage ]
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Posted: 16 March 2017 03:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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Speaking of ambiguity, and going a bit off-topic in the process, the article headline is badly misleading.  “Maine court” suggests action by the Maine State judiciary.  This is erroneous.  The Maine District Court, part of the U.S. First Circuit, is indeed in Maine, both Portland and Bangor, but it is not a Maine court.

Both the initial District Court ruling, and the overturning of that judgment by a Circuit Court, were issued by Federal courts, not Maine courts.  No doubt a good copy editor would have brought clarity.

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Posted: 16 March 2017 04:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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It’s not only the headline that’s misleading. The reporter makes the same error in the first sentence of the article. Not only is it a federal court, but the circuit court sits in Boston, Massachusetts, not in Maine. So under no circumstances can it rightly be described as a “Maine court.” (The federal district court in question does sit in Maine.)

And neither the district court nor the circuit court determined that the presence or absence of the serial comma was dispositive. Both courts relied on other arguments.

It’s just a terrible article. The court of appeals decision, however, makes for fascinating reading, if you’re a grammar nerd, that is.

[ Edited: 16 March 2017 04:55 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 16 March 2017 06:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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Grammar nerds have penetrated the gray lady.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/16/us/oxford-comma-lawsuit.html?_r=0

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Posted: 17 March 2017 05:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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I was taught not to use the Oxford comma.  However, in some instances its omission causes ambiguity, just as its inclusion in other instances causes ambiguity.  If the comma, Oxford or otherwise, causes ambiguity, the choice should surely be either rephrasing or using another punctuation mark, eg brackets or the m-dash.  If you don’t like using brackets or the m-dash, your only alternative in order to avoid ambiguity should be to rephrase. 

That, in my opinion, is the nub of the matter - the clarity and fluency of each sentence.

Like RH, I value the stylistic opinions of others but I don’t always agree with them, which is why I dress so differently to my trendier offspring.

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