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July 1, 2011

Much ado about a comma #oxfordcomma

As a writer and editor, I deal with commas on an hourly basis. Maybe they should ask my opinion.

Amplify’d from www.ajc.com

Twitter Oxford comma commotion punctuated by fact

LONDON — A report that Oxford University had changed its comma rule left some punctuation obsessives alarmed, annoyed, and distraught. Passions subsided as the university said the news was imprecise, incomplete and misleading.

Guides to correct style differ and the issue became heated on Twitter after reports of the Oxford comma's demise.

William Strunk, Jr., who has guided generations of writers through "The Elements of Style," wrote in the book's first edition of 1918: "In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last."

That position is backed by "The Chicago Manual of Style" and the style manual of the U.S. Government Printing Office. The style guide of the British Broadcasting Corp. also commends liberal use of commas "in those pesky lists," and advises a comma to separate each item.

But style guides from The Associated Press and the London newspapers The Times and The Guardian dispense with a comma before the conjunction. The Queen's English Society agrees that "there is no need for a comma before the 'and' unless the sense demands it."

And there is even a third school, exemplified by Henry W. Fowler. In "The King's English" (2nd edition), published in 1908, he gave this example his approval: "Industry, honesty, and temperance, are essential to happiness."

Students at Oxford University are free to choose a style in writing their papers. "They are just expected to use proper spelling and punctuation," Coyle said.

Read more at www.ajc.com
 

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