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Old 03-15-2017, 07:20 PM   #1
someoneyouknow
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The Oxford comma may make or break your case

There have been many discussions about using the Oxford comma both on Lit and everywhere else people who write congregate. Needless to say, knives are drawn by the sides whether the Oxford comma is needed or is an impediment. The following legal case may change minds:

http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/15/health...rnd/index.html
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Old 03-16-2017, 05:29 AM   #2
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Most English Lawyers when drafting Parliamentary legislation avoid ANY commas or punctuation wherever possible.

They know that punctuation can change the intention of a law.

Edited to add:

This is the complete text of the Brexit Bill:

A BILL TO

Confer power on the Prime Minister to notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.

Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

1 Power to notify withdrawal from the EU

(1) The Prime Minister may notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.

(2) This section has effect despite any provision made by or under the European Communities Act 1972 or any other enactment.

2 Short title

This Act may be cited as the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017.


Note that if you take out the clauses defined by commas that the sentences still make clear sense e.g.

(1) The Prime Minister may notify,**, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.
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Old 03-16-2017, 08:32 AM   #3
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Old 03-18-2017, 09:10 AM   #4
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Two references dealing with the same case, I think:-


http://edition.cnn.com/2017/03/15/he...rnd/index.html

https://qz.com/932004/the-oxford-com...truck-drivers/
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Old 03-18-2017, 10:46 AM   #5
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I have always been a fan of the Oxford comma. It is good for clarity, avoidance of doubt, and it sets me apart from the mainstream.
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Old 03-18-2017, 01:15 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SweetCupcake View Post
I have always been a fan of the Oxford comma. It is good for clarity, avoidance of doubt, and it sets me apart from the mainstream.
Well, it doesn't set you apart from the mainstream, because every mainstream publisher (U.S. and UK) I've edited for has specified the use of the Oxford comma--yes, for complete clarity.
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Old 03-18-2017, 05:59 PM   #7
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From a TV guide:

"By train, plane and sedan chair, Peter Ustinov retraces a journey made by Mark Twain a century ago. The highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector."

Or LA Times, discussing a documentary about Merle Haggard:

"Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall."
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Old 03-21-2017, 05:24 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bramblethorn View Post
From a TV guide:

"By train, plane and sedan chair, Peter Ustinov retraces a journey made by Mark Twain a century ago. The highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector."

Or LA Times, discussing a documentary about Merle Haggard:

"Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall."
My Goodness, I had no idea Nelson Mandela had such interesting collecting tastes!
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Old 03-21-2017, 09:05 AM   #9
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My Goodness, I had no idea Nelson Mandela had such interesting collecting tastes!
Perhaps Mrs Mandela is keeping quiet on the subject ?
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Old 03-21-2017, 11:31 AM   #10
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I support use of the serial comma, but I also think it's easy to get carried away with its importance.

In most cases, using it or not using it will make no difference.

In cases where its use makes a difference, I think it's more likely to clear up confusion than to cause it.

But there are some contrary cases. Consider this:

I owe everything to my mom, Lady Gaga, and Snoop Dogg.

With the serial comma, the sentence could be read as saying Lady Gaga is my mom. If you drop the comma, the ambiguity disappears.

These cases seem to me to be less common than cases where the serial comma adds clarity to the sentence, but they arise from time to time.
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Old 03-21-2017, 11:44 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SimonDoom View Post
I support use of the serial comma, but I also think it's easy to get carried away with its importance.

In most cases, using it or not using it will make no difference.

In cases where its use makes a difference, I think it's more likely to clear up confusion than to cause it.

But there are some contrary cases. Consider this:

I owe everything to my mom, Lady Gaga, and Snoop Dogg.

With the serial comma, the sentence could be read as saying Lady Gaga is my mom. If you drop the comma, the ambiguity disappears.

These cases seem to me to be less common than cases where the serial comma adds clarity to the sentence, but they arise from time to time.
Your example doesn't say to me what it says to you. It's clear to me, with the serial comma, that you owe everything to those three people. Without the serial comma, your mother is Lady Gaga and also goes by the name of Snoop Dogg.

A major point, I think, is that you shouldn't mix suing it or not using it within the context of the same work. This invites reader confusion and misunderstanding. And if you are publishing to the public, the standard is to use it--in both U.S. and UK systems.
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Old 03-21-2017, 12:48 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sr71plt View Post

A major point, I think, is that you shouldn't mix suing it or not using it within the context of the same work. This invites reader confusion and misunderstanding. And if you are publishing to the public, the standard is to use it--in both U.S. and UK systems.
I agree with that -- mixing it up is more likely to cause confusion than choosing one convention or the other. As far as I can tell the main holdouts in this country are magazine and news publishers who started out dropping it to save column space. In the world where more and more publishing is online that's not a good reason to avoid it.
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Old 03-21-2017, 01:34 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bramblethorn View Post
From a TV guide:

"By train, plane and sedan chair, Peter Ustinov retraces a journey made by Mark Twain a century ago. The highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector."

Or LA Times, discussing a documentary about Merle Haggard:

"Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall."
I've gotta remember those!
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Old 03-21-2017, 04:42 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SimonDoom View Post
But there are some contrary cases. Consider this:

I owe everything to my mom, Lady Gaga, and Snoop Dogg.

With the serial comma, the sentence could be read as saying Lady Gaga is my mom. If you drop the comma, the ambiguity disappears.
On the other hand:

I owe everything to Lady Gaga, my mother and my sister.

With or without the serial comma, it's ambiguous here as to whether the speaker's mother is Lady Gaga. But at least the comma clarifies that she's not also the speaker's sister. (Tip of the hat to "Hot Fuzz" here.)

Note that semicolons can be used as separators for a list of items containing commas. So, for instance:

I owe everything to my mother; Lady Gaga; my father, Snoop Dogg; my brothers, Huey, Dewey, and Louie; and Mickey Mouse.

This makes it clear that "my mother" isn't Gaga, but Snoop is "my father".

Last edited by Bramblethorn : 03-21-2017 at 04:51 PM.
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Old 03-21-2017, 05:25 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bramblethorn View Post
On the other hand:

I owe everything to Lady Gaga, my mother and my sister.

With or without the serial comma, it's ambiguous here as to whether the speaker's mother is Lady Gaga. But at least the comma clarifies that she's not also the speaker's sister. (Tip of the hat to "Hot Fuzz" here.)

Note that semicolons can be used as separators for a list of items containing commas. So, for instance:

I owe everything to my mother; Lady Gaga; my father, Snoop Dogg; my brothers, Huey, Dewey, and Louie; and Mickey Mouse.

This makes it clear that "my mother" isn't Gaga, but Snoop is "my father".
I don't agree that there is an ambiguity whether Lady Gaga is the mother without the comma. If that's the intended meaning, then "my mother" is an appositive, and it must be separated by two commas. The absence of a comma means that it is not an appositive, so it cannot be read as renaming "Lady Gaga."

I suppose that in the universe of an erotic website both "mother" and "sister" can be read as applying to Lady Gaga with no comma. Maybe that's why serial comma usage seems to get more support here than in some other places.

I tend to agree that the best strategy for avoiding ambiguity is to stick with the serial comma and find another way to put the elements in the series together, as you have suggested. But there are cases, as in the one I gave, where the use of the comma may -- at least may -- confuse some readers.
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Old 03-21-2017, 06:06 PM   #16
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Quote:
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I don't agree that there is an ambiguity whether Lady Gaga is the mother without the comma.
Without the comma, it reads exactly like a toast by Lady Gaga's son/sister at the Celebrities Incest Ball.
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Old 03-21-2017, 07:03 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by sr71plt View Post
Without the comma, it reads exactly like a toast by Lady Gaga's son/sister at the Celebrities Incest Ball.
That's good! But is that an argument for or against?
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Old 03-21-2017, 07:08 PM   #18
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Quote:
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That's good! But is that an argument for or against?
It was a disagreement with what I quoted. In the example, as has already been noted, the best rendering is to turn it around. ". . . my mother, my sister, and Lady Gaga." Using the serial comma because both U.S. and UK publishing use it in the main.
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Old 03-21-2017, 08:30 PM   #19
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Wasn't this covered in "eats, shoots and leaves?"
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Old 03-21-2017, 09:10 PM   #20
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Wasn't this covered in "eats, shoots and leaves?"
Like in the title.
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Old 03-21-2017, 10:42 PM   #21
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Wasn't this covered in "eats, shoots and leaves?"
Known in Australia as the wombat comma: eats, roots, shoots, and leaves....
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Old 03-22-2017, 02:55 AM   #22
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re. "Lady Gaga, my mother(,) and my sister":

Quote:
Originally Posted by SimonDoom View Post
I don't agree that there is an ambiguity whether Lady Gaga is the mother without the comma.
Without the comma after "mother" it can be read either as "Lady Gaga, who is my mother and also my sister", or as a non-serial-comma user listing "Lady Gaga and my mother and my sister".

With the comma it can be read either as "Lady Gaga (who is my mother), and also my sister", or as "Lady Gaga and my mother and my sister".

Hence, either version is ambiguous about whether Gaga is the writer's mother.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sr71plt View Post
It was a disagreement with what I quoted. In the example, as has already been noted, the best rendering is to turn it around. ". . . my mother, my sister, and Lady Gaga." Using the serial comma because both U.S. and UK publishing use it in the main.
Yeah, most of these examples can be fixed very easily by reordering, assuming the order of the list doesn't matter. If it does, then we can fall back on semicolons, or start explicitly numbering the list items, but you'd have to be really unlucky to get into a situation where that was necessary.

(Or somebody who goes looking for this sort of example.)
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Old 03-22-2017, 03:13 AM   #23
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Nowadays I advise my students to write much shorter sentences and paragraphs. I personally like longer paragraphs, such as I read in old-fashioned novels. I use run-on sentences, if given half a chance.

However the rise of the meme means that people's attention span has become so short, that as soon as a comma appears they have probably already 'liked', and moved on to the next sentence.
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Old 03-22-2017, 06:23 PM   #24
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Ain't English FUN ?
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Old 03-22-2017, 11:36 PM   #25
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Ain't English FUN ?
I was re-reading some Churchill recently. His prose of 60 years ago is perfect for today. For example:
[The Light Brigade] captured the guns but only a third of the brigade answered the first muster after the charge. Lord Cardigan calmly returned to the yacht on which he lived, had a bath, dined, drank a bottle of champagne, and went to bed. His brigade had performed an inspiring feat of gallantry. But it was due, like much else in this war, to the blunders of commanders. Lord Raglan’s orders had been badly expressed and were misunderstood by his subordinates. The Light Brigade had charged the wrong guns.
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