Monday, February 18, 2008

JFK and the Oxford Comma

I have an erudite writing friend, an editor now, who campaigns for the serial comma, which he lovingly labels the Oxford Comma.

I use it. He congratulates me. I use it because ... well, because it confirms my sense of serial and spacial logic and, of course, because it is a straightforward means of avoiding confusion.

Read this brief paragraph from a news story about a discovery of material stored after the sad events in Dallas in 1963.
"There are also letters to Ruby, records from his trial, a gun holster and clothing that probably belonged to Ruby and Oswald, said District Attorney Craig Watkins, who planned to discuss the find at a news conference Monday."
I normally stumble only slightly over the missing serial comma, but it's lack in this paragraph fundamentally changes the meaning, clouds the scene so thoroughly that I can visualize less careful readers running about shouting that the prosecutor knew that Ruby and Oswald shared ownership of clothing and a pistol holster!

All to save a dittle-dab of ink ...
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