May 08, 2003

The Oxford Comma and Other Trivia

Who would know better than Oxford? What is the 'Oxford comma'?

The 'Oxford comma' is an optional comma before the word 'and' at the end of a list: We sell books, videos, and magazines.

It is so called because it was traditionally used by printer's readers and editors at Oxford University Press. Sometimes it can be necessary for clarity when the items in the list are not single words: These items are available in black and white, red and yellow, and blue and green.

Some people do not realize that the Oxford comma is acceptable, possibly because they were brought up with the supposed rule (which Fowler would call a 'superstition') about putting punctuation marks before and.

I like that "which Fowler would call a 'superstition'." Just the right note of haughtiness from the Oxford Dictionaries.

There is some interesting reading over at the Ask Oxford web site. The word origins pages cover "codswallop, lukewarm" and other gems, although it disappoints by mostly saying that the common beliefs on the origins of most interesting terms are not very credible. Ah well, there go all those bar bets.

One word I had never heard before is nous, pronounced "nouse":

It appears in our dictionaries of current English, such as the New Oxford Dictionary of English (1998), where it is labelled 'British informal' and defined 'common sense; practical intelligence'. In philosophy, it means 'the mind of intellect'.

Guess I'm not running in circles where common sense or the mind of intellect abounds.

Posted by campbell at May 8, 2003 01:16 AM | TrackBack

Funny that they mention Fowler, since Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage (2nd edition, p. 588) actually supports omitting the serial comma.

Posted by: Mike at October 3, 2003 03:13 PM