20

Since you asked, Vampire Weekend, I do.

Reading news can be a dangerous thing.  Horrible stories abound and good news seems to come around rarely (or gets taken for granted enough that it doesn’t get publicized), so when you have the chance to read a story that ultimately isn’t really that big a deal, it can be kind of refreshing.  Still, sometimes you’ll catch a headline that just shakes you to the very core.  Like this one, from Galleycat:

Oxford Comma Dropped by a University of Oxford Style Guide

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!  Rest easy, serial comma fans, because it turns out that was just from the U of Oxford PR department.  The Oxford comma is still in favor in Oxford after all—or at least from the part that gets to make these calls.  Nonetheless, I was deeply saddened.  I know plenty of people have good reasons for hating the serial comma.  I know I’m an over-comma-er.  My mother was a newspaper editor when I was growing up, so I’ve heard it all before.  I think serial commas are clearer, and they please me aesthetically.  Sometimes it means the difference between saying what you want to say and saying something much more amusing.  They’re not always strictly necessary, but I can’t support a rule that says “only use this if you think people might get confused if you don’t,” because I think people rarely recognize when the things they are saying can be interpreted more than one way.  I like consistency.  You can have my serial comma when you pry it from my cold dead hands.  Or you can have it in this sentence where it’s helpful, pleasing, and attractive.  See?  Wasn’t that nice?

The other somewhat outdated stylistic choice I cling to is two spaces after a period.  You’ll likely note that these sentences are followed by single spaces.  And that’s true as you’re reading them, but not as I’m writing them, because the designers of HTML are trying to hurt my soul.  I’ve heard the answers.  I’ve been berated by people who work in jobs where such things matter.  I know people who know things about fonts and the history of typography who have explained persuasively that single spaces are just the right thing to do.  I can’t.  I won’t.  I just believe in two spaces.  I find it easier to read.  I find it more attractive.  I’m stubborn and ridiculous.  But if double spaces are wrong, I don’t want to be right.

I’m not a writer (other than emails, pitch letters, rights list blurbs, and Facebook status updates, the extent of my writing is this here blog), but I’m still not ready to let go of these things.  In what ways are you writers out there attempting to halt the tide of language evolution?  Anyone willing to join Team Serial Comma and Double Space, or do you all think I’m insane?

Update: Apparently the HTML auto-conversion that single spacifies doesn’t work if you use the Paste from Word function in WordPress.  Victory for Double Spacers!  (Surely now by going in to update this that single spacification will kick in.  And, yes, I am the sort of person who uses made up words like spacification but gets all sad about where people put commas.  Tragic, I know.)

The other somewhat outdated stylistic choice I cling to is two spaces after a period.  You’ll likely note that these sentences are followed by single spaces.  And that’s true as you’re reading them, but not as I’m writing them, because the designers of HTML are trying to hurt my soul.  I’ve heard the answers.  I’ve been berated by people who work in jobs where such things matter.  I know people who know things about fonts and the history of typography who have explained persuasively that single spaces are just the right thing to do.  I can’t.  I won’t.  I just believe in two spaces.  I find it easier to read.  I find it more attractive.  I’m stubborn and ridiculous.  But if double spaces are wrong, I don’t want to be right.

20 Responses to Since you asked, Vampire Weekend, I do.

  1. Hear, hear! One more for Team Serial Comma and Double Space!

    I think serial commas are necessary for proper rhythm, and so are double spaces after a period. Both forms of punctuation create a visual break that modulates the way the sentence is read.

    If poetry was all written in one long sentence, we’d lose the rhythmic experience of reading it. I think we sacrifice the same thing when we get rid of these subtle modulators in prose. No, they’re not necessary. But neither are adjectives, if you want to get picky. I suspect we’d lose a lot of the reading experience if we got rid of everything that wasn’t strictly “necessary”.

    Oh, and I learned to type over thirty years ago, so my thumb is incapable of omitting the double-space after a period or colon. I tried when I started coding HTML ten years ago, but I just can’t do it. Old dogs, etc…

  2. LupLun says:

    Mr. Comma is the millstone around my neck. Don’t get me wrong, he does good work and is very important to my writing. But he also has the nasty habit of jumping into sentences that have gone on too long. Sentences that actually need Mr. Period to come in and lay down the law. And there are always communications issues when he has to work with Mr. End-Quote. Though I really shouldn’t blame Comma for that, everyone has trouble working with Mr. End-Quote. Question Mark is clueless, Exclamation Point gets exasperated, and no one seems to know whether they need two spaces to assist, or just one. Actually, come to think of it, Mr. End-Quote is the problem. Comma just needs to know when to step back and let Period do his job.

    Never had problems with a serial comma. I heard a story, though. You know the Robert Frost poem, “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”? It contains the famous line “the woods are lovely, dark and deep”. Apparently, when it was first printed the newspaper editor changed that to “lovely, dark, and deep”. Frost got into a shouting match with the guy claiming that he had changed the entire meaning of the line. And if you think about it, he’s right.

  3. Hi Lauren,
    my boss used to go nuts when I’d forget to employ the Harvard Comma! Is that one still in use? I’ll have to notify her of its demise if not…great post.

    • Lauren says:

      I do believe that the Harvard comma, Oxford comma, and serial comma are one and the same. And it’s too early to suggest it’s met its end, so don’t call to gloat just yet! It’s a lovely little piece of punctuation and, as you can see, has many supporters!

  4. How does such a tiny punctuation mark finance so much expensive education? There’s more to the life of a comma than I realized.

  5. Julie Nilson says:

    They’re not always strictly necessary, but I can’t support a rule that says “only use this if you think people might get confused if you don’t,” because I think people rarely recognize when the things they are saying can be interpreted more than one way.

    This is *exactly* the point I was trying to make when arguing this point with an anti-comma person yesterday. Those of us who can recognize the errors in clarity are few and far between, and even we let some slip by once in a while.

    I can’t support you on the double-space issue though. :)

  6. Will Overby says:

    I will never give up my double spaces!!

  7. I love you a little bit for this post, even if that headline almost gave me a heart attack before I read on. I don’t get why anyone would hate on the Oxford comma; it avoids so much confusion of the type in the “two ex-wives” example you linked, and I agree it looks better.

    Double-spacing after a period was drilled into my head so much as a child that I haven’t been able to break the habit. Good thing it’s easy to fix with a find and replace search if I ever find myself in a situation where it matters someday.

  8. Jenni Wiltz says:

    The boys of Vampire Weekend are obviously too young to give a…you know what. This makes me feel old, but I learned to type on a typewriter and the two-space rule was drilled into me by a fabulous teacher. Changing the way I space my sentences would be like admitting my entire education was wrong. I will not do it. Ditto for the Oxford comma. It would be a slap in the face to all the wonderful teachers I had who made sure I knew how to use the English language correctly.

    • Lauren says:

      Sadly one of the boys of Vampire Weekend tutored a former intern of ours, so he was probably spreading his bad punctuation far and wide even before he had a viable musical career.

  9. Giora says:

    No, Lauren, you are not insane. We are both graduates of NYU, and therefore I support your right to freedom of expression with the serial comma and the double space. But now I have a question, using an example from Wikipedia about serial comma regarding the following quote by Teresa Nielsen Hayden:

    (1) To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.

    They suggest to avoid ambiguity by using a serial comma like this

    (2) To my parents, Ayn Rand, and God.

    My question is, if we can solve the ambiguity like this

    (3) To my parents and Ayn Rand and God.

    • Lauren says:

      The same part of me that loves a serial comma and shuns a single space takes issue with the extra “and” there, but I won’t pretend my grammar knowledge runs deeper than gut instinct and vague memories of instruction.

  10. Amy says:

    I am grudgingly trying to convert to single space, in case it matters to someone I write to someday. But I don’t like it, and it’s even worse on these mobile devices where there’s not enough whitespace for my old eyes as it is. I don’t see me dropping the serial comma anytime soon, though. So nice to see like-minded people!

  11. Kait Nolan says:

    Okay we are soul sisters. LONG LIVE THE SERIAL COMMA AND DOUBLE SPACES! Seriously. For all the reasons you mentioned. When I learned to type nearly 20 years ago, double space was the rule, and I see no reason why I should have to change that when it really IS that much easier to read. When I write my manuscripts, I have to go through and do a find and replace of double to single spaces so that I’m “technically correct.” But a little piece of me dies every time.

  12. I TRY to drop unnecessary commas. Really, I do. But I just love those things. Everything about them. Ahhhhh. I want a comma t-shirt.

  13. I’ve actually been chastised; more than once, and usually by Americans; for using the oxford comma. Many of which pick it up as a grammar mistake. I only ever double space after a period when preparing ‘proper manuscript format’ for submission though. The ‘Replace All’ option in word is indeed your friend!
    Oh and single quotes, quite a lot of Americans also don’t seem to understand the difference between double and single quotes… Are things different over there?

    • Lauren says:

      Yes, things are different. If I’m not mistaken, the rules for dialogue are the same, just flipped, so that your double quote mark equals our single and vice versa. We do have different rules about punctuation that are probably more complicated than my sense of them: Americans always punctuate within the end quote mark, where Brits do it before or after depending on sense. The British placement of punctuation is something that’s lingered as a bad habit for me since I was in grad school in Ireland (where they actually didn’t require nor care for us to switch our writing habits to standard British from standard American, but I did anyway).

      For what it’s worth, I also don’t think we refer to anything as an “inverted comma.” I’m not sure we consistently call single quotation marks anything when they’re not apostrophes.

  14. Donna Hole says:

    Not insane at all. I still remember some rules from English Comp 101 and have a MLA copy somewhere. For shame, what the changing technology times do to a good writing . .

    …….dhole

  15. Lauren says:

    Serial Comma-ers and Double Spacers UNITE! We have nothing to lose but a few years off our lives from stressing out about punctuation! (Ok, so the slogan needs work.)

    It’s great to have such support from all of you. I’m going to assume the lack of dissent means that all reasonable people everywhere are on our side.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


Refresh