As a writer, I’ve seen a lot of heated arguments about the Oxford (or, as we Americans more properly call it, the Harvard) comma. Some sing its praises, while others condemn its vile, filthy, and unnecessarily rough excesses. Personally, I’m with Mae West here: you can never have too much of a good thing.
If you’re curious about the serial killer of punctuation, check out my friend’s blog, fêting its murderously organized glory: Ode To The Oxford Comma (or something silly along those lines)
Frankly, I wish people would just shut up about the damn things. Oxford, Harvard, Cambridge, whatever. It’s a freakin’ period (or ‘stop’ for your pedantic types out there) that’s too lazy to pull in its tail for portraits. I’d say f*ck the damn things, except that would get me on all sorts of sex offender lists, and honestly, I have enough legal problems in my life right now.
With all the rancor surrounding these shiftless commas, I have to wonder why people don’t fuss over other, now commonly discontinued, forms of grammar. Have people forgotten about them? My English teachers certainly seem to have, considering the amount of red ink I received over the years on my returned assignments.
Which brings me to another point: Irregardless of your opinion, archaic does not mean ‘do not use any more, on pain of the grammatic equivalent of death’.
On the other hand, it does provide me with a few handy buttons to push on certain individuals.
Button-pushing notwithstanding, I truly miss some of these classics.
We’ll start with the red-headed stepchild of Oxford and Harvard (ew, incest!), the Purdue Comma. Who can forget this Ivy League wanna-be? OK, that one I’ll give to the critics. Flipping the comma the other way is just plain stupid.
But grammar Nazis have crowded other forms of punctuation onto trains, never to be seen again. Let’s take a moment to remember these fallen heroes:
The University of California at Santa Cruz semicolon (or ‘UCSC semi’, as grammarians in the know call it), for example. Why did a banana-slug yellow semicolon fall out of favor? Was it the slime? Its sticky nature served to force readers to pause and extract themselves from the sentence, which is exactly what a semicolon is for!
The Harvard em-dash / Yale en-dash rivalry has always been interesting to watch, though how the use of fight songs is supposed to prove your point is beyond me. But any dash that has its length defined by a typeface standard stored in the Bureau of International Weights and Standards in France is, by definition, awesome, and will always be welcome in my manuscripts.
When it comes to fight songs, though, nobody can justify the existence of the Northwestern University period (or ‘stop’) better than Northwestern University. Their argument is so catchy, so hummable, how can anyone resist? Sure, a bold period that’s hollow is a bit strange, but heck, if the font is small enough, you can’t even tell. Lighten up, people!
And in any discussion of dangling punctuation, one cannot leave out the long, drawn-out Colorado University at Boulder ellipse. How can you not love…nay, lust after…nay, downright require the use of an ellipse whose creation is apocryphally attributed to an English department staff party involving marijuana-laced brownies? Sure, it’s thirty-seven periods (or ‘stops’) long, but who hasn’t gotten stoned and then paused excessively mid-sentence?
I understand the CU Boulder ellipse was a favorite of Hunter S. Thompson. That’s sayin’ something right there. I don’t know exactly what, but it’s something.
I won’t even validate the Chico Exclamation Point with a mention here. I won’t! It can roll over and die! And yes, I know how hard it is for an exclamation point with a square period (or ‘stop’) to roll over!!
These are (almost) all wonderful forms of grammar that not only add flavor to a sentence, but allow us to dig a little into the English language’s past. Clearly a journey worth taking, whether you deign to use these dusty, cobweb-covered tools or not.
And now, a word from our sponsor: me!