Comma Sense

red pencil, grammar, comma“Perhaps the most hotly contested punctuation mark of all time”—the Oxford comma is back in the news. Well, sort of. See this 3-minute TED-Ed lesson animation, and see what you think. Plus a quiz to test your comma-sense and the chance to participate in discussions of this burning controversy, including one entitled “Why do you think so many people care so much about grammar?” Hadn’t notice that, really, in everyday life. Maybe it’s generational. Like the MDs who want first-year residents to suffer through 40-hour shifts in the emergency department, because, “goddammit, I did it and survived,” though possibly their patients didn’t. Those of us who absorbed all the rules hammered into our brains in junior high, goddammit, feel the same way about our hard-won expertise: “Can you believe he split an infinitive?” (that’s ok now, BTW). But not, as I read the other day: “He sent the email to him and I.” Ouch.

I use the serial comma, myself, because most of the time it avoids confusion. But I confess that using commas in all the technically correct places can make you want to brush at the page as if there were crumbs on it. At the moment I’m reading a Cormac McCarthy novel that is heavily “and”-dependent and nary a comma on the dust-clogged horizon. Makes for an interesting tone.

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