Tag Archives: Oxford comma

The List

Every New Year’s Day, the first thing I do is open The Washington Post and read The List, a comparative account of what’s Out and what’s In in the new year. Other papers around the country may publish something similar, but the Post tends to include a few inside-the-Beltway references.

What always strikes me is that I didn’t know so many things were In until they were already Out. Brussels sprouts, for example. Conversely, I am amused to read what’s now In that was already In for me. For example, IHOP is now In. I celebrated my birthday there (by choice) two weeks ago.

Sorry, Betty White, you’ve been replaced by Anne Meara. I’m just glad you’re both enjoying your due glory.

I’ve jotted down a few personal Ins and Outs:

OUT IN
Two spaces after a period One space after a period
Oxford comma No comma
Hot house Central air conditioning
Goose bumps Hot flashes
Real Housewives of anywhere Hot in Cleveland
Coffee, alcohol, chocolate, garlic, onions, tomatoes, fried foods, and late night snacking Hot water and Dexilant happy hours
Zicam Webcam
Pandora jewelry Pandora radio

 

What’s Out and In for you in 2011?

Happy New Year.

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Time to space out

Hallelujah!  There is good news for middle-agers.

Indeed, there are new findings about old brains.  The good news is that, according to a new book and some additional long-term research, the brain of the average 40-to-60-year-old isn’t ready for the trash heap.  In fact, it is more flexible and more capable than previously thought.  We are even generating new brain cells, never mind how we lost the old ones.  They’re always the last place you look.

The bad news is that we no longer have an excuse for our, what word am I looking for, oh, yes, forgetfulness.

Admittedly, I haven’t yet read The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain or the 55 years of research of the Seattle Longitudinal Study, which has followed thousands of people over decades to determine how their brain function changes over time.  But findings have been featured in the news all week, with various medical experts agreeing, that the grey matter of the gray-haired isn’t to be underestimated.  In fact, it often improves over time.

It’s the flexibility aspect I find especially comforting.  First, let’s set aside any question about the adaptability of older people in life and work settings, as the overwhelming number of comments readers posted on our recent discussion of the generation gap shed valuable light on all facets.

My personal experience is that, while I believe I am quite adaptable to all sorts of new things–technologies, ideas, ways of doing things–breaking old habits isn’t easy, if simply from a mechanical standpoint.

Here’s a tiny—literally tiny—example.  I cannot for the life of me seem to break the habit of typing two spaces after a period.

Like many women of my generation, I went through formal typing training in high school.  Even if we had either high career aspirations or hopes of full-time engagement inside the home, we were told that strong secretarial skills were something we could “fall back on.”

A key rule in typing—no pun intended—involved inserting two spaces after every period.

Of course, this had everything to do with the block spacing of yesterday’s typing technology.  When modern word processing came to be, much changed.

I recall in the 1990s a colleague referring me to The Mac is Not a Typewriter, one of several manuals of style for the new age—including writing for the Web–on the matter of the double space.

I have known for more than 20 years that a second space has no place after a period, but I can’t control my fingers.  I have even gone so far as running a search on a completed document, and universally replacing two spaces with one.

The recent news about the middle-aged brain gives me hope, and takes away my old-dog-new-tricks excuse.

Perhaps I need to make a public pledge to give up the second space, just as I did on April 8th when I gave up the Oxford comma.  I have held true to that pledge, so there’s no reason I can’t retrain myself on this one.  I still think one space looks funny but then again, so do a lot of correct sentences about which I preach.

Can anyone recommend a double space support group?  I am ready to change.

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Who gives a fig about an Oxford comma?

They say if you love something, set it free.  That’s what I am doing with the Oxford comma.

Just a refresher:  the Oxford comma, also called the series comma or the serial comma, is the comma used immediately before a grammatical conjunction—such as and or or—preceding the final item in a list of three or more items.  For example, a list of three fruits can be punctuated as either “apples, oranges, and bananas” (with the Oxford comma) or “apples, oranges and bananas” (without the Oxford comma).

I don’t know for certain, but I suspect the Oxford comma made its way into accepted practice around the mid-1960s.  At least that’s the time I began writing sentences.  I must have been right on the cusp, so I’ve always used the comma. 

I do know those older than I eschew it.  My father is horrified by an Oxford comma.  My brother, eight years my junior and an accomplished public relations executive, uses it.  The attitude of some much younger may best be expressed in a 2008 song by the group Vampire Weekend, called “Who Gives a F*** About an Oxford Comma?”  In general, older writers don’t like the comma, younger ones do and the youngest ones may not really care.  That’s a subject for another day (but let it be noted that I have some faithful readers who are under 25 and keenly attuned to such matters).

Whether or not an Oxford comma is correct truly depends upon which authority you consult.  Nevertheless, a wise wordmistress reminded me just recently that consistency is what’s more important.

Either way, this year I’ve made a definitive choice.  Perhaps it is a desire to return to a cleaner, simpler way of life.  I am making a conscious shift and ditching the Oxford comma.  No ifs, ands or buts.

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