1 of 2
1
A question about the Oxford Comma
Posted: 10 January 2013 05:08 AM   [ Ignore ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1129
Joined  2007-02-14

For those of you who feel that there must be adherence to a convention about the Oxford Comma:  If your house style requires the Oxford Comma and you are quoting from a publication that forbids it, do you follow your house style or do you retain the style used in the material quoted?  I ask because I am reading David Eagleman’s Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain in which he often and always uses the Oxford Comma in his own text but does not use it in a quote from Goethe, a quote that does not rate a citation.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 10 January 2013 08:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1889
Joined  2007-02-19

If one quotes, one does one’s best to quote verbatim, surely (unless one’s a politician, or any other sort of habitual liar, or has an axe to grind)

Profile
 
 
Posted: 10 January 2013 08:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1363
Joined  2007-01-29

Agreed.  If you add your own text of whatever nature to a quote, the author surely could say that’s not what s/he said.  Well, I would, if only to be awkward.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 10 January 2013 09:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1190
Joined  2007-04-28

Does [sic] ever appear after bad quoted punctuation? Readers would be looking for a more grave solecism. I once posted about Obama referring to “Reverend Wright” not “the Reverend Wright” which was used elsewhere in the article and it didn’t warrant a [sic]. Its for it’s would immediately get a sic.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 10 January 2013 09:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1228
Joined  2007-03-21

I once posted about Obama referring to “Reverend Wright” not “the Reverend Wright” which was used elsewhere in the article and it didn’t warrant a [sic].

AS one who bears that honorific, I can tell you that the absence of the article is much more common even among clergy. I would say that a. it’s less pretentious and b. becoming the norm.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 10 January 2013 10:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3337
Joined  2007-01-29

do you retain the style used in the material quoted?

Yes, quotes must be exact.  (I speak as a practicing copyeditor.)

Profile
 
 
Posted: 10 January 2013 10:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  336
Joined  2012-01-10

My own practice is to quote a quote verbatim, punctuation and all.  If the punctuation in the original is so bad as to introduce genuine confusion as to what it means (as opposed to a use of punctuation that merely isn’t my, or my “house’s”, preferred style), I would either insert a bracketed comment (possibly even a bracketed punctuation mark) or break the quote up into two or more pieces to avoid the punctuation-related awkwardness.  I try to avoid [sic] if I can, since it can come across as snarky.  But if I need to give a lengthy block quote for one reason or another, and there is a glaring grammatical error in the original, I would use [sic].

Example: hypothetical original (verbatim) quote of an e-mail from “Bob”: “My favorite books is the Bible, the Constitutions and anything by that King guy.” (Assume that Bob was referring to the US Constitution, not to the constitutions of various countries.)

Any of the following would be OK (some more so than others):

Bob reported that his favorite books are “the Bible, the Constituion[] and anything by that King guy.” (Note the non-correction of the non-use of an Oxford comma, even though I strongly prefer them.  If it wasn’t clear in context that the US Constitution was meant, I would probably add a bracketed comment for that, too.)

Bob noted that his favorite books include the Bible, the United States Constitution, and “anything by that King guy.” (Preferred method if I am trying to capture some of the flavor of Bob’s speech, but do not want to ridicule his grammatical errors.  Here, it is perfectly OK to use an Oxford comma since i have not put that part in quotes.)

“My favorite books [are] the Bible, the Constitution[] and anything by that King guy,” Bob noted. (Ok, but the brackets seem to call unnecessary attention to the corrections, and, in turn, to the implied errors.)

Bob wrote, “My favorite books is [sic] the Bible, the Constitutions [sic] and anything by that King guy.” (Most snarky, and least favored, approach, unless there is some legitimate, non-juvenile, reason to call attention to his grammatical errors.  Then again, if it’s clear from the context that I am using the quote for the express purpose of giving an example of his use of non-standard grammar, the [sic]s would be unnecessary, I think.)

And of course, I could just avoid quoting all together:

Bob’s favorite books are the Bible, Constitution, and the works of Steven King. 

Although I don’t think I could resist quoting the “anything by that King guy” part, since in injects a bit of life into an otherwise sterile and banal statement.  Also “works of Steven King” may imply that Bob has a greater degree of familiarity with King’s body of work than I suspect is the actual case. 

Apparently, though, there are some newspaper articles in which quotes were “corrected” to make them match the applicable house style.  I don’t think that’s appropriate.  It’s not clear to me, though, if these were products of the newspapers’s official policies regarding such things, or the results of overly aggressive editors (whose work went un-re-corrected), or just unconscious “correcting” that occurred because the house rules had become deeply ingrained.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 10 January 2013 10:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2745
Joined  2007-01-31

Does [sic] ever appear after bad quoted punctuation? Readers would be looking for a more grave solecism.

If really necessary, the quoter could insert “[punctuation sic]” or “[comma sic]”; I’ve seen this done.  To do so for an Oxford comma used or omitted contrary the the style followed by the quoter would, of course, be going beyond curmudgeonry into assholery.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 10 January 2013 04:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1129
Joined  2007-02-14

Thanks, all.  In the particular case that sparked my question the quote was from Goethe so he was unlikely to complain and it was translated anyway.  Since the source of the translation wasn’t given I still sort of wonder.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 10 January 2013 04:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3337
Joined  2007-01-29

Since the source of the translation wasn’t given

Now, that’s bad practice.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 10 January 2013 06:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2745
Joined  2007-01-31

Svinyard’s use of empty square brackets to indicate the deletion of something (in this case, the letter s) from the quoted material is totally unfamiliar to me, and if I encountered it without explanation I would have no idea what it was intended to signify.  Does anyone else recognize it as standard practice?

The reverse, such as the insertion of an s that was not in the original, is a normal use of square brackets in my experience, but I don’t recall ever seeing them used as Svinyard has here.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 10 January 2013 06:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  336
Joined  2012-01-10

Well, I was beginning to wonder if this use of empty brackets was another product of my fevered imagination, along with “hede” (for “headline") and any number of other silly mistakes I have made.  But, here’s an example I found through a quick google search that seems to fit with my usage:

http://depts.washington.edu/engl/askbetty/changing_quotations.php

I have no idea what qualifications Betty (of “ask Betty") may have, so maybe this isn’t a generally recognized practice, but at least I didn’t make this one up out of thin air. 

And, while that post expressly approves of using brackets to modify a partial quote, it also says that you shouldn’t “fix” a quote with a grammatical mistake and should instead use (sic).  But it isn’t clear if “Betty” is saying that you can’t fix a quote through the very bracketing methods she mentioned earlier, or whether you simply shouldn’t “fix” it without noting that you made a change.  So this Ask Betty post doesn’t really, at least clearly, support the specific practice I noted (at least with the example where I kept the full quote intact) but it is at least some evidence of the []-deletion method existing in some form.

FWIW, I prefer using partial quotes to using [] to indicate deletion (or non-empty brackets to make an addition), and prefer either of those to [sic].

[ Edited: 10 January 2013 06:42 PM by Svinyard118 ]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 10 January 2013 06:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  336
Joined  2012-01-10

And here’s an example of a “advice on writing” type post where a full sentence is quoted and empty brackets were used to note a deletion:

http://index.businesswriting.com/grammarguide/detail12.htm

Again, this doesn’t really prove anything, other than that this convention is not one I made up.  (Well, I suppose one could assume I manufactured that website in a pathetic attempt to shore up my position, but hopefully nobody really thinks I would do that.)

And, as to the issue in the OP, as noted, I wouldn’t use [,] to insert an Oxford comma, nor use [] to delete one, let alone use [sic] to frown on its use or non-use, and share Dr. T’s sentiments with regard to using [sic] in such a context.

[ Edited: 10 January 2013 06:57 PM by Svinyard118 ]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 10 January 2013 11:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1363
Joined  2007-01-29

No matter how authoritative that web site may be, having [] in the middle of a quote simply confuses me because I’m not used to seeing it.  I would rather insert [sic] at the end.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 January 2013 04:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4478
Joined  2007-01-03

Rather than modifying the quote to fit your text, the first choice should always be to modify your text and leave the quote intact, or just paraphrase.

The best solution would be to rephrase the sentence. Instead of, “According to Atwood, reading can ‘also change[] you,’” the writer would have been better off with, “According to Atwood, reading “also changes you.’”

As for the other example, “‘The decision[ ] carried little significance.’ (The original document had ‘decisions.’)” I would question whether this is a proper modification. The shift from multiple decisions to just one may be changing the sense of the quoted material to too great an extent as it alters the very subject of the quote. Better would be something like, “The decision was found to be of ‘little significance.’”

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 January 2013 05:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1363
Joined  2007-01-29

Exactly. Use selective but relevant quotes where appropriate.

Profile
 
 
   
1 of 2
1
 
‹‹ Fishwife      Police blotter ››