Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fanfare For The Comma, Man

Here's Vampire Weekend's Oxford Comma...

Great, isn't it? But what is an Oxford comma? Shall I tell you?

Imagine you are a man who is getting dressed for the office in the morning. Do you put on (in strict order)...

pants, vest, socks, shirt, trousers and tie?


pants, vest, socks, shirt, trousers, and tie?

See the difference? See the Oxford comma in the second example?

My old English teacher drummed it into us that there should never be a comma before the "and" in a list. Now and again I throw one in to be a devil.

The song's author, Ezra Koenig, was inspired to write it when he discovered that there was a Columbia University student group which named themselves "Students for the Preservation of the Oxford Comma". Hence the first line "Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?"

I certainly don't. Life is too short for getting all excited about other people's use of grammar. I've never read Eats Shoots and Leaves and I don't intend to. In fact, if I were ever to open a greengrocer's shop I'd call it The Rogue Apostrophe Greengrocer's and make sure it was fully stocked with potatoe's, green's, green bean's, tomatoe's, and (note the Oxford comma) asparagus tip's for the grammar stream.


  1. Your title reminds me of those jokes e.g.

    Q. What do you do if you see a fireman?
    A. Put it out, man.

    I'm more into Quotation marks myself.

  2. Thanks for that Geoff! I love Vampire Weekend but couldn't be arsed to find out what the Oxford comma actually was.

    I think an attempt at punctuation etc is generally to be encouraged, but that Lynn Truss and her ilk have made me get all 'who gives a fuck?' about it myself.

    Why do so many people have to spend so much time putting so many other people down these days?? What's wrong with them??

  3. What? No Cambridge comma? Just an Oxford, comma?

  4. Fess up, now many times did you check for typos before you posted this?

  5. You're a rebel.

  6. There's also a society for the preservation of the semi-colon.
    It's members are mainly French persons who love Proust.

    Oh and shouldn't that be asparagus's tip's?

  7. This is your best ever post Geoff ... entertaining, witty and informative.

    Brill video including the cameraman who looks like Micky Mouse and only let down by the crap guitar break.

    This whole magnificent experience was only let down by Vicus who couldn't even be bothered to check his comment for typos.

  8. Call me pedantic if you wish, but correct punctuation is a courtesy to the reader. Incorrect punctuation is the prose equivalent of not holding a door open for someone. In the worst cases, it's like slamming the door shut in their face.

  9. Billy - I'm all for liberal use of quotation marks. I'd like to see some at greengrocers.

    Beth - I hate snobbery. People with posh educations looking down their noses really gets my goat. Not that I'm saying this is what the Truss book was like but I can't be bothered to read it to find out. Maybe she's laughing with them and not at them. Maybe she's not laughing at all and just boiling with rage.

    Romo - Oxford won the boat race that year so they got to choose the name.

    Vicus - It all came out in a stream of consciousness.

    MJ - I'm the James Dean of the music scene.

    Kaz - "Asparagus's tip's" it is. The Proustian semi-colon is a grammatical triumph.

    Murph - Thank you. I like the guitar break though it has become a bit of an ear worm for me this week. I think Vicus's "h" is up the creek.

    Willie - I don't see why punctuation should be treated any different from maths. We all have different abilities. I'm often not sure where to put things or what to put.

  10. Geoff, I read half of it then gave up - she's not laughing, she's apoplectic.

  11. The exploding Truss!


  12. I once spotted ADVACADOE PAIR'S, which would surely test the patience of the most laissez-faire connoisseur of greengrocers' orthography.

  13. That's just beautiful.