Sir Philip Pullman calls for 50p boycott over Oxford comma

M. Robert Gibson

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So which side of the Oxford comma debate do you fall on?

I was taught not to put a comma before the and, but I think there is a good case for it when listing phrases that contain and.

For instance:
Here are some 1960s duos
Sonny and Cher, Peter and Gordon and Simon and Garfunkel. - just looks and reads all wrong.
but
Sonny and Cher, Peter and Gordon, and Simon and Garfunkel. - clarifies things somewhat.
 

The Judge

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Yep, that was how I was taught, too.

I'm now inconsistent. I put a comma in if I think it helps the sentence either by clearing up a possible ambiguity which I can't be bothered to unravel the line another way** or (more likely) I want the rhythm of the order of the things, or when I want to emphasise the pause between the last thing in the list and the "and".

And frankly, whoever thinks a comma should be added there has absolutely no sense of design -- it would look hideous.

Let's face it, that's undoubtedly not the real reason he's criticising the coin -- BUT AS EVER, NO POLITICAL COMMENTS, PLEASE.


** the classic line about requiring an Oxford comma is "He spoke of his parents, Mother Teresa and the Pope." which can easily be changed to the unambiguous "He spoke of Mother Teresa, the Pope and his parents." so the comma isn't required, just common sense!


EDIT: re HB's point, yep "prosperity with" is daft, but personally I'd have taken the other comma out and made it like an old-fashioned legal document with no punctuation at all.
 
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Overread

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If they used the Oxford comma then they'd also have to start using the Cambridge comma to avoid showing too much attention toward one of the two great universities. Then you can bet one of the other, richer polytechnics that became a university would want THEIR own comma. Suddenly they'd all be wanting them and crying out!

It would all lead to chaos and confusion for so many of us, especially those who mostly made it through English classes with teachers who trusted that we mostly knew what we were doing because we were born in the country and sort of soaked up half of what we know from general chatter and reading.
 

thaddeus6th

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This nonsense about the new 50p has really annoyed me.

Because I used to have both the hands and stars 50ps and now I have no idea where they are. Humbug!

[At least I've still got my much-sought-after Kew Gardens 50p].
 

tinkerdan

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I'm of the mind that the comma is there to help clarify the sentence and I'm not sure who would require(beyond the ones mentioned in the article) extra clarity in that sentence. I also agree that, design-wise, the whole thing could be cleared up by taking out all that silly punctuation.
Pedantic-coinage.png
 

Elckerlyc

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I too have been taught never to use a comma before 'and'. But I have come to see that as a rule, a guideline, not a law. And to every rule there are bound to be exceptions or, if you like, escape clauses cases.
In this case I would use either the comma or 'and', not both. Or, because the '.' at the end is missing, neither. You would have to drop the capital at the start too.
peace
prosperity
friendship
with all
nations​

Just my Dutch 2p. :D
PS Of course, there might a reason why I'm not a coin designer...
 

Overread

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What annoys me is when you're taught a rule "i before e except after c" and then lean a load of "exceptions" to that rule. Only to discover years later that its not, in fact, a rule and that there's almost as many ei words as there are ie words! Someone really needs to sit down and make English work according to the RULES not the Origins of the words ;)


I do actually wonder if that's something which holds English back. The fact that much of it obeys a dictionary which was based upon the origin of words rather than upon strict rules and structure. We could change it all around (and go through a mad few decades as a new generation got used to it) and have a language that is obedient!
 

mosaix

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My view is that I wouldn’t put a comma before the ‘and’ in “apples and pears” so neither would I in “oranges, apples and pears”.

Anyway my English teacher, Mr Dale, told me not to when I was eight years old and that’s good enough for me.
 

Elckerlyc

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@Overread

We tried that in the Netherlands with Dutch spelling. Gah, what a chaos! Every decade a new revision with new spelling rules.
I can't write in Dutch without a dictionary. Simply because I completely lost track of the current spelling. Which btw doesn't always make more sense than the old spelling did.
Language has evolved over the millennia by the spoken word, by people who are basically lazy when it comes to pronunciation. There simply isn't much logic in it.
 

AlexH

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"should be boycotted by all literate people" isn't the sort of comment I expected from Philip Pullman. He's called plenty of very good writers illiterate.

I was taught not to use it, though there are rare occasions it's necessary for clarity.
 

Ursa major

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What does prosperity with another nation mean?
Whether or not it does mean** anything, peace with another nation does mean something...

...so with two of the three (peace and friendship) working quite happily (at least in theory) with "with all nations" and the third (prosperity) being debatable (so it can't be definitively ruled out), I have to disagree that an oxford comma is necessary.


** - As it happens, one can have prosperity with other nations... but in having to avoid bringing current politics into the thread (so relevant examples are excluded), off the top of my only one example suggests itself, and it is very, very far from being a good one: the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
 

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