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Goodbye, Oxford comma? Hello, Shatner comma!

June 30, 2011 | 12:46 pm

Williamshatner_jamestkirk Rumors of the death of the Oxford comma have been greatly exaggerated.

The Oxford comma, thought by some to be an annoying punctuation foible, appears in a list of multiple items before the "and." Here's how the Oxford comma looks in a sentence: "Scotty transported Spock, Kirk, McCoy, Sulu, and a redshirt down to the planet's surface."

The Twitterverse erupted Wednesday that the Oxford comma had been dropped by none other than the Oxford University Press. The AtlanticWire reports:

Yesterday, Mediabistro's GalleyCat ran a post that made it seem like Oxford University Press was dropping the use of its eponymous comma, also known as the serial comma. The story took off and became a Twitter meme so big that by today it had its own Associated Press story. But unfortunately for GalleyCat (or maybe fortunately, because it seems to be getting them a lot of clicks), it wasn't exactly true. The instruction to do away with the comma, which follows the last word in a series, appeared not in the OUP style guide, but rather the guide issued for the University of Oxford Public Affairs Directorate...

What's good about a Twitter kerfuffle is that while it might be full of outrage and disappointment -- I myself retweeted the sad but inaccurate news -- it is also full of people who can see the bright side. Even the bright side of a punctuation's ostensible demise. One such, writer Everett Maroon, was quoted by the Atlantic: "Professor friend o mine is against losing the Oxford comma, but wishes his students would lose the Shatner comma. You, know, what, he means."

The Shatner comma! That, is, you, know, a really, fantastic, idea.

See, the problem people have with the Oxford comma is that it puts a pause where some think one doesn't belong. The idea is that "I went to the market to get triple sec, limes and tequila" is better, or more modern, than "I went to the market to get triple sec, limes, and tequila." And the Shatner comma? It, does, nothing, but, put, pauses, where, they, do, not, belong.

As anyone who's ever struggled with punctuating a long list knows, the Oxford comma can come in really handy. One example of why it's needed was circulated on Twitter, and here's an amended version of its loss gone wrong: "Among those interviewed were Mr. Smith's two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall" -- turning Kristofferson and Duvall into the ex-wives of Mr. Smith.

The Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma because of its appearance in a series, is alive and well, even at Oxford University Press. We know it is, because the press itself linked to its Oxford comma guidelines -- in the hotbed of the punctuation debate on Twitter.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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Photo: William Shatner as the, expressive, James T. Kirk in the original "Star Trek" television series. Credit: File

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