Alan Russell


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Whatever happened to the Oxford comma?

Who decreed it was unnecessary? I miss it, so I require my students to use it. Are we wasting our time?

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    Feb 26 2013: If one of a list of items stands alone from all the other listed items it must be set apart by a comma. If two or more of the listed items are contributing parts of a whole then they are not to be set apart by commas. Anyone who says otherwise is guilty of three flaws in thought: carelessness, short sightedness and shallow mindedness, and being grammatically undisciplined. :--}
  • Feb 26 2013: I still use it, since to leave it out makes the final term appear to be a connected item (a singleton) on the same level as each of the preceding terms.
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    Feb 25 2013: I thought it was making a comeback. In any case, I insist on using it. I provides more clarity.
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    Mar 1 2013: I must have missed the decree as I never stopped using it.
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    Mar 1 2013: "At the costume party, I saw two strippers, Hitler and Stalin." How many people did I see?
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      Mar 1 2013: Were they the only people you saw?
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      Mar 2 2013: Dude, you must find better parties. Just thinking about this I had to wash my eyes and there may be a loss of brain cells which I can ill afford.
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        Mar 2 2013: Sometimes I get sucked into these teasers.
        Without the serial comma it seems to read as though Hitler and Stalin are the strippers.
        But Alan didn't say those were the only people he saw at the party.
        It's Mardi Gras tonight in Sydney. I live in the city near the action, so my take your advice. Which will also result in brain cell death.
        Catch 22.
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    Feb 26 2013: poor students
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    Gail .

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    Feb 26 2013: I didn't know that it was missing, but I do know its importance. I do sometimes write A and B and C, but I do so because I now type, and I type as fast as I can think out words. This causes me to tend to write in a "stream of consciousness" style, which I must go back and fix in the editing process. It complicates things.

    When I was in school learning about commas, I learned that I would write "A, B and C". A comma after B is unnecessary, thus optional. But is it really?

    If I have listed the beneficiaries on a life insurance policy as "Ben, Jerry and Ann", then the policy will be split in half - giving one half to Ben and the other half to Jerry and Ann. If I listed them as "Ben, Jerry, and Ann", then the policy is split in thirds, giving each equal amounts. Legally, commas are very important.

    I was a professional memoirist and my use of commas came up once. My client (the son of the people I was writing for) complained bitterly. He was focusing on the rules of grammar he had learned. He learned that the third comma is improper. His eyes stopped dead in their tracks at the sight of the third comma, even though that third comma told a story of its own.