Passing the Torch

Who knew grammar would be such a yeasty topic?

From: New Receptionist
Sent: Thursday, February 04, 2010 9:24 AM
To: Me
Subject: I’ve been thinking

So I’ve been thinking about the Oxford comma.  And I’m torn.  For a lot of reasons.  But when it comes right down to it I have to say I don’t like the idea of using it, personally.  But I won’t judge anyone who disagrees.

Can we talk about grammar sometimes?  Is that cool?

From: Me
Sent: Thursday, February 04, 2010 9:30 AM
To: New Receptionist
Subject: RE: I’ve been thinking

Yes.  I really enjoy grammar.  That being said, I flagrantly misuse things sometimes because I’m a playwright.  Most of my writing is things people say and people don’t talk with proper grammar.  So sometimes when I try to transition to essays or something I have a hard time getting to a good grammar place, if that makes sense.

Regarding the Oxford comma: I’m a fan.  I just think that when it’s not there it feels like the two last things in the list are linked together when I feel they should be separated like the rest of the things on the list.  For example, last night I did the following things: ran two miles, sneezed a lot, and watched two episodes of Lost.  If I had said I ran two miles, sneezed a lot and watched two episodes of Lost I think it would seem like I was sneezing WHILE watching Lost.  Which I was.  But not only while watching Lost.  You see what I mean?

Also we should talk to Shaw about grammar sometime.  She was a linguistics major in college so she is really, really into grammar.  She told me that if a person died by hanging themselves you don’t say “he hung himself.”  You say “he hanged himself.”  Weird, right?

This email is so long.

From: New Receptionist
Sent: Thursday, February 04, 2010 9:53 AM
To: Me
Subject: RE: I’ve been thinking

Hey.

I really enjoyed your e-mail.  And regarding the sentence: “Last night I did the following things: ran two miles, sneezed a lot, and watched two episodes of Lost,” I completely agree with you.

On the other hand, the Oxford comma can make things confusing if you’re talking about people or living things.  For example, “My mother, a monkey, and my aunt took me to the mall yesterday.”  Assuming that my mother, a monkey and my aunt are three different people, the Oxford comma causes a problem here because it implies that my mother IS a monkey, rather than the fact that she is just going to the mall with one.  Does this make sense?  If you look at it this way, it’s more understandable why journalists don’t use the Oxford comma at all ever.  If someone named Jim went to the movies with a serial killer and a giraffe, the Oxford comma is BOUND to imply that Jim is either a serial killer or a giraffe.  But he is neither of those things.  Or maybe he is.  We don’t really know Jim very well, I guess.  But I made him up, so he’s not a serial killer.  He might be a giraffe, though.  I haven’t decided yet.

Anyway, I completely understand what you’re saying about improper grammar in writing.  You can’t write dialogue and be grammatically correct at the same time.  Although I do think it’s important to understand the English language as it should be in order to write improper grammar correctly.  You know?  I have a feeling you know exactly what I mean, because you’re really well spoken and you write well.  I also think grammar is really important in defining a character through his/her dialogue, don’t you think?  Like “Sarah and me is going out for a nice steak dinner,” can really say a lot about a person.

When I write I tend to use fragments and run-on sentences.  A lot.  I really like the way fragments and run-on sentences change the pace of things.

OMG I’m such a nerd right now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  And this e-mail is probably even longer than yours.  And I totally knew that about “hung” and “hanged.”  It’s so crazy.  It seems so wrong, but so right.

So there that is.

From: Me
Sent: Thursday, February 04, 2010 10:13 AM
To: New Receptionist
Subject: RE: I’ve been thinking

I never thought about that!  This might revolutionize my usage of the Oxford comma.  I don’t want people to think my aunt is a monkey unless she is one.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Passing the Torch

  1. Ashley

    who gives a fuck about an oxford comma?

  2. receptionist

    Word. That’s in my head so bad now.

  3. Will

    Who, gives a fuck about an oxford comma.

  4. receptionist

    That made me shudder, literally.

  5. Mommy

    does Who really give a fuck about an Oxford comma, or is he just pretending to in order to please Emily?

  6. Marly

    Well I thought it was useful. I was just thinking today as I wrote on my blog about commas. This is really weird. I’m always worried about using them too much or too little. Back in the day, meaning high school, I was the queen of grammar. Doesn’t it suck that as we grow away from high school, all correct usage of languages goes out the window. (Us non literary majors). Especially now that everything is SO viral. I cringe when I see really horrible basic grammar mistakes. I’m okay with intermediate to hard but basic, come’on. 🙂

  7. Jillisawesome

    Dear Emily,
    FYI — from your future sister-in-law who spent four years studying publishing and copyediting, and then went on to never use those expensive skills — a note about the oxford comma.
    Style-wise, newspapers are the most common and prevalent non-users of the oxford comma.
    The use of the oxford comma is the most noticeable difference between AP style (Associated Press, newspapers) and Chicago style, which is the supposedly classier style used for published novels, text books, etc.
    That made me feel smart.
    But, also, I like the oxford comma a lot, because who wouldn’t like an extra comma! Look how cute it is: , .

  8. stephanie

    all the cool kids are fans of common usage. all the cool kids meaning, of course, me.

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