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Via Bruce Baugh:
Addendum: A review of the movie thus described.
[glyph of applause]
I am saving this for internet arguments from now until the end of time.
But were his parents Ayn Rand and God?
Forever and ever, amen.
Thank you, Patrick. I needed that laugh.
My life is complete now. Thank you.
Evidence is so much better than contrived if valid examples.
@3, TexAnne, that's the one I had previously used as a reference. This now takes precedence. Oh, the glory of it.
If this doesn't get a mention on Language Log, I will be very disappointed.
I dedicate this comment to my parents, Ayn Rand and an 800-year-old dildo collector.
Oh very dear.
I've never understood why some styles eliminate the final serial comma, since it can produce ambiguous and sometimes ridiculous statements such as the above.
Thanks for sharing this, Patrick.
The RPS community might prefer the results of omitting that particular serial comma.
That's strangely happy-making, actually. I suspect I'll be contemplating Merle's two ex-wives, Kris and Robert, and chuckling for weeks to come.
This is BETTER than Ayn Rand and God!
(Scalzi? Are you reading? ARE YOU?)
Of course, my first thought was "Wow, House is really hitting the skids this season..."
A type specimen, in the Linnean sense....
AP STYLEBOOK PLS TAKE NOTE, AND THEN STUFF IT.
...This message is approved by Working Writers Sick of the AP Stylebook and Its Hate-On for the Serial Comma.
Marriage by serial comma--isn't that a crime in most jurisdictions?
Nicole @ 19
I can't believe my work is actually making us adhere to the AP standard that it's "Web page." Ordinarily, I'm all for the more formal, literate solution, but this was already a losing battle when they kicked it off...
As for the rest, I'm definitely in favor of anything that can be done to extend the useful lifespan of terminal commas.
What's AP style for "fist-pump"?
I feel oddly vindicated.
Bah! I disagree. If it were intended that KK and RD were his ex-wives then there should either be a colon or no punctuation at all (leaving the nounal phrases to sit comfortably in apposition). I see the comma after wives being an abbreviation for an "and" that it would be wearisome to include. Sure you can construct an ambiguity and snigger, but the point is that you have to construct the ambiguity, it's not actually there. (But what can you expect from people who think that "different than" is not a solecism.) (Tee-hee, he said "but").
In case I've hit the tone wrong and offended anyone, there is a little something in the open thread that I haven't put here because it is too far off-topic. Though you may know about it already.
PhilPalmer @24. The comma absolutely should be there if identifying the ex-wives: in this case the pair of identities is a non-restrictive subordinate clause. See, for example, Elements of Style or just about any other usage guide. A colon would be very unusual in this situation, and while I think it is technically correct, it places too much emphasis on the break in the sentence for it to flow properly, at least for me. I don't think I've ever seen someone use this sentence structure in this context.
I think, more specifically, the problem with omitting the comma entirely would be the implication that Kris Kristofferson was somehow both of his two ex-wives, and that Robert Duvall was also interviewed.
Just a few days ago I was trying to explain to some workmates the importance of the serial comma. One claimed that they were grammatically incorrect. My brain may or may not have exploded slightly at the suggestion.
More to the point: I like when it's something hilarious that proves me right.
In the UK it is certainly often not used and I've found it safer to omit it. The Guardian style guide states a preference for it to remove ambiguity but in general it is frowned upon. I suspect it's beginning to be seen as "American". People react less strongly to needing to put it back in than to take it out, if you see what I mean.
I shall carry this example around with me for future reference though!
Isn't that sentence a problem because of the ordering?
"Among those interviewed were Kris Kristofferson, Robert Duvall and his two ex-wives."
No, you could still have some confusion. But how would you speak this information. Would you read a list without a pause between the last two entries? Does the "and" replace a pause, or signal that this is the last item?
And to think that in some quarters it is openly disdained!
PhilPalmer #24: Actually, my sincere initial reading was indeed that the two ex-wives in question were Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall. Obviously I quickly realised that this was wrong, but only because it was obviously implausible; had the names been female and denoting persons unfamiliar to me, I would have continued under my initial misapprehension (and been a bit confused about this post). Possibly the flaw is in me as a reader, rather than in the sentence.
I like and use the serial comma, but I think it's a bit of a stretch to describe it as vitally necessary in avoiding unfortunate (read: hilarious) ambiguities like this one. The fact is, one can just as easily construct cases in which the inclusion of the serial comma creates ambiguity. The serial comma is not a panacaea; the only way to steer clear of ambiguities is to write carefully. Re-order the list if you have to.
The inclusion or omission of the serial comma is a matter of style, not principle. I hereby exhort people on both sides of this startlingly deep divide to:
1. Do as you please, but
2. be consistent about it, and
3. stop sniping at each other.
Q., no way can you get a bunch of language junkies to quit arguing about the serial comma. No way am I even going to try. Besides, it would be hypocritical of me.
Also: Hurrah for Bruce Baugh, for spotting it!
Q. Pheevr's link makes a good point. The similar sentence:
Among those interviewed were his ex-wife, Kris Kristofferson, and Robert Duvall.
is more ambiguous with the serial comma.
TNH @33 – I take your point. But, to be clear, I'm not asking that people stop arguing about the serial comma; after all, I'm arguing about it myself, in a way. I'd just like to see the dispute downgraded a few notches from Holy War....
Q@35 Actually, I think your point is a good one. In this example, I immediately thought that the real fix is not a comma but more careful phrasing of the sentence.
However, MacAllister's vision @15 has me too distracted to think of one.
I thought it wasn't so much a Holy War as a Feast Day of the Serial Comma.
Also, my reaction to the clipping was also thoughts of Ayn Rand and God.
Read the headline on this and weep:
This was presumably written by a professional writer. What a shame she doesn't have a better grasp of English.
I don't come here as often as I'd like. Mostly 'cause reading ML is addicting, can suck up my hours, and I have work to do. But I am so glad I came by today. This is a delight and a joy.
Reading a sentence out loud, noting where one pauses when one speaks, prompts one to place commas in the proper places for that particular sentence. And when I absolutely cannot get the commas to behave, I rewrite the sentence.
I have a running battle over "webpage" and "email." Since I do webpages and the like, I tell those who complain, "oh, that is so 90s" and keep right on with webpage and email. The other thing I say is, "English is a living language. Cope."
When someone used that last on me, in reference to apostrophes, I said I didn't mind the changing use of apostrophes.* I absolute despise the inconsistent use of apostrophes by the same person in the same communication.
*I do, but "English is a living language." *wince* I wonder how the apostrophe issue will look in ten years.
I very badly need the name and date of the paper that came from. I'd love to use it as an illustration in my freshman college writing textbook.
TNH/PNH? Bruce Baugh? Bueller? Bueller?
Sorry, Sarah, no clue. I will see if I can find anything.
Try checking the Los Angeles Times for July 21, 2010, or some paper that might have run a syndicated review from the Los Angeles Times. The photo was published (in some paper) with a review by Randy Lewis of an episode of American Masters on PBS.
(I searched on "petty crime he embarked on as a teen.")
I don't put punctuation before end quotes that weren't actually an original part of the quotation. I picked up that habit due to computer programming.
Sylvia @28: Given that the serial comma is also known as an "Oxford comma,"* I never had the sense that it was an Americanism.
Aside: I think putting a comma within quotation marks is (North) American.
*I only know this because I looked it up after hearing the song Oxford Comma by Vampire Weekend.
You know how Public Service Announcements for parents are often meant to provide "starting points" for discussions about drugs, sex, etc. with the kids?
I just had an excellent discussion with the household 14 year old about the serial comma, based on this thread. It saddens me to note, however, that while she appears to be entirely on board with serial commas, she has had at least one teacher who deleted them from her work.
This is wonderful. I really want to be able to link this all over, but I suppose it might be best if I didn't.
The comma is NOT a stand-in for 'and'. It is a list-item delimiter (type ending) like </li>. In some cases 'and' can be substituted, of course, but in others not:
Set the speed to 16, 33, or 45.
Some people may say we've seen it all before, but I thought Merle Haggard was a truly classic cowboy film.
Here we have two men riding into a small town, two very different men who have nothing in common except that each of them bears the scars of having spent a decade being married to Merle. We can see the way Merle (and Merle's aftermath) has shaped both of their lives -- and Merle, although dead before it begins, shapes the film the same way.
Duvall is a cowboy, taciturn, reclusive, and you can still see how very gorgeous he must have been when he was young. Kristofferson is a singer who won Merle away from Duvall with a song. (The chords of the song haunt the movie, but we do not hear the words until the end.) They were once rivals for Merle's love, but now that Merle has been murdered they have to work together. They come to what's first a grudging respect for each other and later an actual friendship with just a hint of romance. The final shootout is beyond tense, and the last moments brought tears to my eyes.
People will compare this with the old chestnut Brokeback Mountain, but the difference goes far deeper than just shepherds vs cowboys. Brokeback Mountain focused on the angst of being gay and a shepherd. Merle Haggard leaves the angst out -- these men are rough Westerners who just happen to love other men. And lets face it, the position of women in the Old West has always been ambiguous. The lives and loves of cowboys have always been each other -- Merle Haggard just makes explicit what so many other films from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on have left implicit. What women we do see are well done -- Kristofferson's sister-manager, Duvall's niece, and Sue, the saloon-keeper who knows everybody's secrets. The film is stronger in that nobody questions the direction of anybody's sexuality, it turns instead on who they love and how long love lasts. All right, the real Old West wasn't like that, but it wasn't like Shane either, and people always make films for a modern sensibility.
It's nonsense to call Merle Haggard a documentary, however. This is a western pure and simple. I'm glad I saw it, and I shall be buying the DVD as soon as it's available.
Ah, the things that might have been, in a civilized society.
Re: Jo Walton @47: ***applause***
Jo, nothing short of brilliant! Thank you!
Jo @#47: LOL! Brilliant!
I want to see that movie!
Jo wins an internet. Which means she can afford to buy me a new keyboard.
Jo Walton @ 47... Was the original story by Louis L'AmourInterdit? No matter what, it's too bad that the TNT Network hasn't aired one of their original westerns in quite some time.
Serge, shouldn't that be Louis L'amourQuiN'osePasDireSonNom?
Speaking of lists and list items (and how right-thinking people everywhere are in favor of the serial or Oxford comma):
Lin D @39: 'cause reading ML is addicting, can suck up my hours, and I have work to do
I'm afraid I've been bugged for years by series like this one, in which the series includes items that do not belong to the same category. It's a scope issue. Reading ML is addicting; reading ML can suck up hours; reading ML I have work to do, hrm? The most frequent example in my experience is how this or that medication is not for women who are nursing, pregnant, or may become pregnant; once I heard a radio commercial warn that their product was not for women who are nursing or pregnant, or who may become pregnant, and I wish like hell I remembered what they were advertising, because I'd try to find a way to reward them whether I had the condition their drug treated or not.
Write as if your readers are all simple context-free grammar parsing algorithms. Because, someday, they will be.
Jo Walton #47: Wonderful!
Fox @ #56
It's called "faulty parallelism." And it drives me crazy, up a wall, and also to drink.
* Gives thanks for the fact that $SELF is working on a novel right now, because it means he can booby-trap the text with serial-comma-omission-induced grammatical landmines. *
Xopher, I do not think that the word 'and' means what you think it means. It's a desert topping and a floor wax!
Sarah S @59 - or "coordination of unlike categories". Either way, yes, too much of it and one needs a glass of wine.
Q.Pheevr @ #32:
The fact is, one can just as easily construct cases in which the inclusion of the serial comma creates ambiguity...The inclusion or omission of the serial comma is a matter of style, not principle. I hereby exhort people on both sides of this startlingly deep divide to:
1. Do as you please, but
2. be consistent about it
If it's not a matter of principle, and it can create ambiguity, then why on earth would I want to be consistent about it? I don't understand how you got from the one to the other. (I agree with everything else, especially the stop sniping part.)
[In the preview your list points are not bolded but I sure don't know why. Hopefully they will be in the real comment...]
Sarah 59: It's called "faulty parallelism." And it drives me crazy, up a wall, and also to drink.
But what you've written there isn't a faulty parallelism at all, but a perfectly cromulent syllepsis. Actually it's only mildly sylleptic, since the verb 'drive' is used in such closely-related senses. More sylleptic:
My mother drives me to school, the conversation in the car, and me crazy.
My mother drives me to school, crazy, and the conversation in the car.
Charlie 60: 22And the Xopher wondered exactly what the Charlie might have meant, exactly. 23For, he reasoned, it was the meaning of the comma that was under discussion; 24and the Xopher wondered whether the Charlie might have meant that, instead, 25since the comma does act as a floor wax and/or† a dessert topping. 26And as many other things.
27But the Xopher rejoiced that the Charlie was working on another novel.
†Different copies of this text have different words here; the best scholarly speculation has it that the original author wrote it with both, deliberately. Or?
individualfrog 62: Bolding doesn't carry over a paragraph break (with a blank space between) here. You have to rebold each paragraph. So
<strong>This is a paragraph.
This is another.</strong>
This is a paragraph.
This is another.
<strong>This is a paragraph.</strong>
<strong>This is another.</strong>
As for your content...I agree. If clarity is the goal, consistency (that is, making a solid rule and following it) is not your friend.
Xopher @ #64
Yes, I know.
I was being funny.
Think he'll make an "It gets better" testimony video?
Oops. Sorry, Sarah.
Charlie Stross @ 60 -- a desert topping and a floor polish: would that be palm oil? (brushes off rant on difference between desert and dessert, not wanting to eat sand...)
"What is it?"
"I'm not sure. According to the translator, it's either an aphrodisiac or a floor wax. I can't decide if it's worth the risk or not."
- Garibaldi on Babylon 5
I, for one, want to read Jo Walton's review of Faulty Parallelism.
individualfrog, #62: There's some quirk of the blog software here that makes a paragraph break also function as a close tag for bolding and italics. If you want to maintain either across several paragraphs, you need to open and close the tags explicitly for each paragraph.
What we see here is a striking divergence in world-views:
Many thanks to Jo for the backstory. I've been wondering.
Now about the Eastwood/Sergio Leone films. . .
individualfrog @62: If it's not a matter of principle, and it can create ambiguity, then why on earth would I want to be consistent about it?
The choice between using the serial comma and omitting it is not a matter of principle, but consistency in matters of style is a principle, and does help prevent ambiguity. It's about letting the reader know what to expect from you. If the reader knows that you consistently use the serial comma, then "Merle's ex-wives, Kris and Robert" can only be an appositive construction. If the reader knows that you consistently omit the serial comma, then "Merle's ex-wife, Kris, and Robert" is similarly unambiguous. Whichever choice you make, if you're consistent about it, one of these will be ambiguous between a list reading and an appositive, and the other will be unambiguously appositive. But if you vacillate, then they're both ambiguous, because the reader can't rely on knowing how you punctuate lists.
Merle is not dead after all. It was a close thing. He collapsed in diabetic shock after an unknowing Buck Owens fed him a large bowl of frosted sugar flakes when they were having a late-night snack after a gig. Finding his body on the floor blinded Kris and Rob with grief. When they come back from the shootout, Merle emerges from his cereal coma. Fortunately, both Kris and Rob are spectacularly bad shots, and neither of them did anything that they might regret.
TomB 76: He collapsed in diabetic shock after an unknowing Buck Owens fed him a large bowl of frosted sugar flakes when they were having a late-night snack after a gig.
Wow, so Buck Owens was almost a cereal killer?
Xopher @77: Yeah, it was surreal.
Comma, comma down do be doo down down.
Breaking up sentences is hard to do.
I always thought that song was silly. You can't have two commas in a row. So I sang "Down do be do down down...semicolon down do be do down down."
Seriously. I sang that in high school. Got some great expressions out of people!
No,it's just serial monogamy.
For Jules @25
TO MY PARENTS
Interior, morning. A bedroom in the Rand residence. Ayn Rand is sitting in bed, smoking a cigarette from an ivory holder. She has been talking on the telephone and now hangs up the receiver. Next to her God is trying to sleep.
AR: Yahwe, darling...
G: I've told you I hate that name. It's I AM THAT I AM.
AR: Yes, darling YOU THAT YOU ARE, I'll try to remember. It's about our offspring.
G: Boy or girl?
AR: We have two? How irrational. Whichever it is, they are bothered about their colon.
G: Can't they just enter into a freely-agreed exchange of goods or services with the medical profession?
AR: Not that kind of colon. The one in the dedication to us, their parents.
G: Well, what's wrong with their colon?
Sound FX: Sounds of car driving up, tyres on gravel, car comes to a halt.
AR: My husband! Quick, get in the closet!
G: No, its Nathaniel Branden. I know everything, remember.
AR: Same difference. Get in the closet.
G: I am I AM THAT I AM. I am already in the closet. Not only that, but you said your husband was in there.
AR: Not in that closet. In closets more generally.
G: And anyway, I thought you didn't care.
AR: I don't. But I'm selfish. I don't want to be bothered by people caring all the time. And they will.
God sighs and manifests Himself in the closet.
Enter Nathaniel Branden, Ayn Rand's long-time lover.
NB: Good morning, darling. Mwa.
AR: Mwa. Nice trip?
NB: A very rational one. Except that people commented on my tie. Irrational and a waste of energy. I'm going to change it.
Nathaniel Branden crosses the room to the closet.
Nathaniel Branden finds God. Nathaniel Branden sees God.
NB: You bitch! You told me you were an atheist!
Exit Nathaniel Branden. SFX: Doors slam. Car drives off.
G: Can I go back to bed now?
AR: Might as well. How annoying. I was going to ask him about the colon.
G: In our offspring's dedication?
AR: Yes, they've put "To my parents, Ayn Rand and God".
G: Ladies, ahem, first as usual.
AR: It should be a colon. It should be "To my parents: Ayn Rand and God". Someone said that's too emphatic. We're their parents, don't we deserve a little emphasis?
G: Of course we do. What's this dedication for, anyway? A new kind of factory that discards people?
AR: No, it's a book. But someone told them; someone told our offspring and they listened. And now they are irrational and lacking will. And people who want to dedicate their books to their own parents and us will be confused into implying that their own parents are, in fact, us. And whatever freely-entered-into arrangement they may have made with their own parents in exchange for being included in the dedication will be invalidated and oh! it's all so irrational!
G: There, there darling. Who needs a book anyway? Tell them to see Me and we can arrange to write everything directly onto people's walls with the old Moving Finger trick. And we can charge extra for lettering in fire.
AR: Can we?
G: Of course we can. And we can see off some future publishing developments at the same time. Fucking Kindle, my ass.
AR: Oh thank You, Yahwe, thank You.
G: I told you, it's not Yahwe, it's I AM THAT I AM.
AR: Oh, go eat Your spinach.
PhilPalmer, 82: I'd make up a witty description of how hard I'm laughing, but I'm laughing too hard to try.
Xopher @80: I always thought that song was silly. You can't have two commas in a row.
You can have as many as five in a row, but you have to follow them with a chameleon. (They come and go.)
Avram @84: Yes, but if the chameleon decides to comma'n a' my house, do I have to go get apple and plum and apricot, too, eh?
before the comma got married was it a comma dating?
Lee @ 72: nitpick: It's not technically a quirk, though I'll admit it's uncommon.
What it's doing is correcting faulty XHTML: tag pairs must close in the reverse order as they open, and inline elements like the bold tag must appear within block elements like the paragraph tag, so <b><p>This paragraph in bold is in incorrect XHTML.</p><p>And so is this one.</p></b>
<p><b>And this paragraph is in incorrect XHTML too.</p>
So the blog software closed the unclosed bold tag, then removed the closing tag from the paragraph below since it was now trying to close something that wasn't open.
Which is probably far more than you wanted to know.
Thanks for the formatting help, Xopher and Lee.
Q. Pheevr, do you really think people can remember, and keep in mind, your pattern of comma use? I doubt they ever notice until there's an ambiguity, at which point it's too late to prevent a "huh?" Better, I think, to ignore consistency and just try to make it clear in whatever way it takes (which might mean changing serial comma style or might mean re-ordering lists like this.)
Sadly, AR and G broke up soon after that scene. She said that she couldn't believe in her husband any longer, particularly after discovering all those extra brides he had.
For His part, He realized that he should go back to sleeping with virgins, because they didn't criticize.
Jo Walton @ #47, thank you. I'm laughing my ass off right now. Good job.
I wanna see the movie too.
Avram @#84: Is it the commas or the chameleons who are talking of Michelangelo?
Is this the proper place to request assistance or advice in the use of the semi-colon? I'm thinking of the sentence:
John, where James had had had, had had had had; had had had had the prior approval of the instructor.
I suppose the judicious use of quotes might be helpfu in parsing, but am wondering if that might diminish the effect.
"Among those interviewed were Kris Kristofferson, Robert Duvall and his two ex-wives."
You reminded me instantly of Flanders and Swan's Have Some Madeira, M'Dear.
I'm amazed at the extent to which contributors seem to think that grammatical practice must be invariant. George Orwell's sixth rule of effective writing is "Break any of [the foregoing five] rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous." So, with a preference for avoiding the final serial comma, what's the problem with inserting it when necessary?
Avram #84: Does it say to much about me that I thought: "Wait, five commas and a semicolon?" (argunpx)
Ian Shuttleworth (95): That's what we* do in our library newsletter. Our normal style is not to use the serial comma, but sometimes we put it in for clarity. (My own preference is to default to use of the serial comma, but I bow to house style in this case.)
*I'm the comma police (one of several proofreaders).
Don Fitch @92, my preference would be for the judicious use of italics. For talking ABOUT a word, I've seen single quotes used, but I think putting the word in italics looks a little tidier.
The combination of using the serial comma by default, and omitting it in the very rare cases where it might cause confusion (none of the cases exhibited so far strikes me as very serious in that regard), is my choice. Fairly often rearranging the sentence can help; but sometimes the order of the list is important, so a brute-force reordering is a problem.
Omitting the serial comma by default seems to me to be a degenerate convention; it doesn't match how people say those sentences, it's just a newspaper editor trying to same a few fractions of an em.
Is the final double N becoming an endangered species on this list? I first noted that many people are calling Glenn Beck "Glen"; then noted Donald Swann being called "Swan". Worse, in proper names (IMO) than "desert" for "dessert".
92 Don Fitch:
Reminds me of "Buffalo buffalo buffalo" etc., see:
@93 Neil in Chicago - why Robert Duvall's two ex-wives, of course. Who else?
Ian Shuttleworth, #95, the WashPost Manual declares no serial commas. Whenever I have one in a letter they publish, they take it out. Not my fault.
Is the use of the semicolon as a more emphatic comma, rendering unambiguous
his two ex-wives; Kris Kristofferson; and Robert Duvall
a hypercorrection (i.e., incorrect) or quirky but acceptable? If you do not hold with serial commas, it would have been easier (as may have been said upthread) just to render
Kris Kristofferson, Robert Duvall and his two ex-wives
But this could be misread as whether the ex-wives are Duvall's, though usually in an obit the unspecified relations are assumed to be the deceased's.
KK, RD, and Haggard's two ex-wives
would be preferred by a perfectionistic (and perfectly straight) editor today. Now that all editing is digital there is no excuse for not rearranging a sentence, unless it is design copy and kerning is an issue.
I still am traumatized by prepping two academic books' bibliographies with extensive items in both British and American punctuation, for international editions (there was no question of making it all American).
The worst was the British quotes with external closing punctuation, e.g., "quotes". To an American eye this screams ERROR! ERROR! Sorry if you are British.
That is such a great photo of Merle Haggard; the density of character per square centimeter is off the charts.
Some people say I’m an author,
Others say I’m a hack.
But I’m just a natural-born writin’ man,
Tryin’ to keep my sentence on track, oh yeah,
Tryin’ to keep my sentence on track.
And I don’t give a damn about an Oxford comma,
Use it when I see fit.
Disambiguate when I have a list,
I don’t see why I should quit, poor boy,
I don’t see why I should quit.
When I was back in high school,
My teacher said “hey kid,
Write as you will, as long as it’s clear,
And write what must be writ, poor boy,
Write what must be writ.”
Now that I’m a writer,
And have written many words to share,
I’ve learned that my editor and I
Are the only ones who ever care, poor boy,
The only ones who ever care.
So I don’t give a damn about an Oxford comma,
Drop it in like a bomb.
Gotta make sure that you know I know
That Ayn Rand is not my mom, poor boy,
Ayn Rand is not my mom.
On the front page, Merle Haggard looks like he's reading the sidelights.
Oh, well done, Xopher.
Here's the Kingston Trio's version. It's pretty bouncy and upbeat.
For a different take, here's Hoyt Axton's version. It's nearly mournful, almost angry, and much slower.
sara, #104: Not to these American eyes -- nor, I suspect, to those of anyone who's done a fair amount of computer programming. If the punctuation isn't part of what's being quoted, putting it inside the quotes is a syntax error, and one that will crash your compile!
When I write here, I will sometimes go back during preview and change ending punctuation to American-style, especially if it's at the end of a longish phrase. But my default is to put it outside the quotes where it logically belongs.
"OK, Bobby," Mr. Pickett's doorman sighed. "I'll admit Mr. Talbot to the party, since the zombies get such a kick out of him and he's clearly on the Guest List. But I don't know what to do about this next entry you've got here."
"You're looking for a shapeshifting Transylvanian nobleman," the party host explained. "One minute he'll be about 5'6, speak in a heavy Eastern European accent, and identify himself as "Dracula." If he shapeshifts, gains about 5 inches and a moustache, and then calls himself "Count Alucard," then let him (or them) in. The creature will look an awful lot like Mr. Talbot, at that point.
And please refer me Boris, when you're on duty!"
And please refer to me as Boris, when you're on duty!"
Sara #104: I'm with Lee #109 on this one, and the convention is starting to take hold here.
And, a minor linguistic prank from last night's Indian menu: The dish I chose was listed as "Vin d'AlHo". When I tried to pronounce the apostrophe and CamelCase, the waiter just echoed it as "vindaloo".
Earl @ #109: Kind of like this guy.
To come at this from a slightly different angle (and reaching back nearly 40 years to my linguistics training)--in speaking that sentence, the relationships would be signaled by juncture, and the comma before the "and" can be seen as a signal of the degree of juncture. If punctuation is at its base a system of notation for performing a text, then any rule that insists that the final comma in a series is never needed is clearly inadequate. And while rearranging the items in a list might eliminate some ambiguities, I hesitate to let an arbitrary punctuation rule dictate the more significant elements of what I'm writing.
To those who would apply programming conventions to the representation of natural language, I point out that the compilers for natural language run on much more sophisticated hardware with a much less transparent operating system. And some of us learned to write before we learned to program.
Russell Letson@114: I plead trauma at a young age. Specifically, preparing design and user documentation using runoff, to be printed on a line-printer or, at best, a Diablo. So we didn't have fonts or even italics available, which makes putting code or command examples in quotes nearly inevitable.
And once you start thinking that way, you realize that putting anything inside the quotes that the user shouldn't type will cause trouble.
And then you realize that the whole scheme is weird. As I understand it, it evolved because somebody thought it looked better typeset in a book.
a chris@44: Well, the use of '-ize' in words such as 'civilize' is also preferred by Oxford, but that doesn't stop it being seen as an Americanism by many British English users.
David Harmon #112: And, a minor linguistic prank from last night's Indian menu: The dish I chose was listed as "Vin d'AlHo". When I tried to pronounce the apostrophe and CamelCase, the waiter just echoed it as "vindaloo".
Ah, vin da loo, wine of the Terlot (it'll taste better if you rhyme it with Merlot). From what I understand, Tuesday's vintage was... extraordinary.
Andrew M @116 Well put.
Good point, Andrew M @116. I wasn't aware Oxford preferred -ize. That's the OED? Odd.
"-ize" derives from the Greek verbalizing suffix "-ιζειν". So I'm not surprised that Oxford prefers it.
Neil in Chicago @ #94
Is there a word for the delightful feeling of recognition among strangers who have the same frame of unexpected references? I just had that.
Sarah, 121: "Fluorospheroidicity."
Marilee @ 103 — The WashPost Manual apparently specifies that a person who is employed is an employe (with one final e). An organization so desperate to save 0.05% of their ink must be on the edge of collapse.
Cynthia W @ 102 — According to the link Neil supplied,
Duvall has been married four times, first to Barbara Benjamin from 1964 until 1975. He then married Gail Youngs (1982–1986 ...), and Sharon Brophy (1991–1996).... In 2005, Duvall wed Luciana Pedraza ....
Fox @56 said: The most frequent example in my experience is how this or that medication is not for women who are nursing, pregnant, or may become pregnant; once I heard a radio commercial warn that their product was not for women who are nursing or pregnant, or who may become pregnant, and I wish like hell I remembered what they were advertising, because I'd try to find a way to reward them whether I had the condition their drug treated or not.
The first time I noticed such a situation (and brought its illogic to my mother's attention) was on a warning label on the front of our apartment's space heater. It had an enormously long list of things that cause a fire hazard if put near a space heater, phrased as an enormous headlong comma-separated THOU SHALT NOT list.
I no longer remember all of it verbatim, but a key section read, "Keep [...] children, furniture, gasoline and other liquids having flammable vapors away from heater."
Some people, when told about this, are croggled that (a) I was reading the warning label on the space heater while sitting in front of it warming my toes of mornings, and (b) that I read it ENOUGH to notice or care about grammatical issues in it.
These people clearly do not have hyperlexia to the degree that I do; if put in front of text, I have to roll a willpower saving throw NOT to read it.
Clearly spells like 'Explosive Runes' were created as deathtraps for my kind.
Eilliott Mason@125: Ouch; "explosive runes" would certainly get me every time.
Apparently it was worth a try on goblins, too; I wouldn't have been totally sure of that.
Dan Hoey, #123, I find only one employe, which probably means the reporter screwed up (particularly because they meant employ). The WashPost doesn't have very many copy editors anymore and it's pretty awful. I've noticed recently that a lot of otherwise well-written articles will miss a space between two words and I guess something with putting the text on the page does that.
I think this WhatWG posting is trying to standardize on Oxford commas for lists of emails...
Marilee, I used to read the WashPost a lot in the 1980s and 1990s, and I saw a dozen "employes" for "employees". And I'm pretty sure I never saw "employees". That said, they may have changed their style since, which would be a good thing.
Merle Haggard and a wife. (scroll down; warning - very picture-heavy)
Debbie @ 130 — She looks like a good sport, but I'm not sure how she feels about Kris and Robert. Best to avoid the subject.
Dan Hoey, #129, 1785 incidences of "employee" in the last 60 days. I think it has to have changed at some point.
Elliot & ddb:
These people clearly do not have hyperlexia to the degree that I do; if put in front of text, I have to roll a willpower saving throw NOT to read it.Clearly spells like 'Explosive Runes' were created as deathtraps for my kind.
This is why I ask people to kindly ROT13 their explosive runes. It's just simply courtesy to those who'd prefer not to have the scroll's ending spoiled blow up in their faces.
...or should that have been, "It's just simply courtesy to those who'd prefer not to have the scroll's ending blow up in their faces spoiled."? I'm never sure. Let me check with the AP...
It certainly should have been "simple" rather than "simply."
Stopping now. Before I notice something else that needs fixing in a compulsive additional comment.
Nicole, I read that as (more or less) "It is, simply, courtesy..."
Did you know Howard Rheingold teaches Detection 101?
Apparently, though, it's crap.
There's nothing incorrect about the use of the comma here - it is correctly
placed. It is not the use or placing of the comma itself which should
attract one's mirth; what is at fault is the syntax, which in this piece of
bad writing has created an amusing unintended ambiguity. Rewrite it as:
"Merle Haggard The Documentary was filmed over three years. Among those
interviewed were Kris Kristofferson, Robert Duvall and his two ex-wives."
and the ambiguity disappears.
Robert Dumarais (who himself admits to an excessive fondness for the semicolon).
No wonder he's Haggard....
#138 Robert Dumarais
"Merle Haggard The Documentary was filmed over three years. Among those
interviewed were Kris Kristofferson, Robert Duvall and his two ex-wives."
and the ambiguity disappears.
and the ambiguity disappears.
Alas, it doesn't. Your re-write doesn't make it clear whether the ex-wives were ex-wives of Merle Haggard or ex-wives of Robert Duvall. The final comma is still totally necessary.
Among those interviewed were Kris Kristofferson, Robert Duvall, and Haggard's two ex-wives.
To avoid all ambiguity:
Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, as well as Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall.
Today's example: "At night, with the [Tower of London] dimly lit by spotlights and the cobblestones dark, it’s easy to let your imagination wander to picture the kings and queens who walked here and the historic figures who died on Tower Green, including two of King Henry VIII’s wives, Sir Thomas More and Lady Jane Grey."
Sir Thomas tried to keep that quiet.
@40, 41, 42: I hope Sarah S. was able to nail down the citation of this newspaper clipping, so she could include it in her book. On the off chance that she hasn't yet, *but* could still use it, I can tell her that Bill Higgins was right in ascribing it to the Los Angeles Times for July 21, 2010.
I ran a search on Lexis, for the text that everyone's talking about here. It came up with one "hit," with this citation:
Randy Lewis, "TELEVISION REVIEW; Haggard -- candid as ever; 'American Masters' takes a richly detailed look at the mercurial country music star," Los Angeles Times, Wed., July 21, 2010, Part D, pg. 10 (Home Edition -- section: CALENDAR; Entertainment Desk).
Lexis does not include graphical material, at least not for most items. Nevertheless, the entry includes this information:
"GRAPHIC: PHOTO: MERLE HAGGARD: The documentary was filmed over three years. Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall. PHOTOGRAPHER:Mark Seliger PBS"
So, there we go. I think that should be pretty conclusive identification for your citation, Sarah!
We have a new contender:
@RuthBourdain on twitter:
From the cover of "Tails" magazine: "Rachael Ray finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog." Sounds delish.
That one was Particled or Sidelighted here, wasn't it? (Or maybe it was a Whateverette. These things run together in my mind after a while.) But it was shopped, not real.
Relaying one posted by a friend over on Google+:
"... its eclectic wax museum, where visitors saw figures as diverse as Little Red Riding Hood and Marie Antoinette about to be guillotined."
(from The Devil in the White City, which I really must read some time.)
Away, infantile loon!