The Oxford comma has its day in court

I’m an editor. I favor the Oxford comma, but I have to admit it doesn’t fit in mysteries or crime fiction novels. Why? Fast-paced thrillers set the tension with short sentences—definitely no place for extra pauses to slow the action.

In business writing, there’s long been a battle surrounding inserting or omitting the comma in a series of three or more. I edit by the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) 16th Edition, which suggests using the Oxford comma based on H.W. Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 2nd edition, 1965, and Fowler’s Modern English Usage, 3rd edition, revised (Bibliography 1.2). But that isn’t where I fell in love with the extra squiggle.

English was my niche in school. I relished phonics, spelling, vocabulary, and writing. I made life-long friends with the Oxford comma. Not because my father was English. Not because it was expected in business letters and reports. Because the extra pause clarifies the meaning and avoids ambiguity.

“She took a photograph of her parents, the president, and the vice president.” (CMOS 6.18, page 312)

Those who argue that the Oxford comma isn’t necessary omit the comma after president. That changes the number of snapshots from three to two—one of her parents and one of the president and vice president.

So when is it better to omit the serial comma? When two words are understood as a pair.

“Their wartime rations included cabbage, turnips, and bread and butter.”

Drivers for Oakhurst Dairy sued for overtime wages in 2014 based on the interpretation of a Maine state law that denied that pay. The trial was bread and butter—actually about wages earned from delivering products.  Title 26 Labor and Industry, Chapter 7 Employment Practices, Subchapter 3, §664 Minimum Wages exempts some employees from earning overtime wages if associated with agricultural produce, meat and fish products, and perishable food.

“The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.”

The lawsuit was based on interpretation of “packing for shipment or distribution of…” as a pair. Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the absence of a comma after shipment entitled the drivers to overtime. The finding are detailed in a twenty-nine page document.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Oxford comma finally has its day in court–and wins!

 

Still not convinced you should use the Oxford comma? Try this comma placement test.

I love eating my grandchildren and my dog.

Disclaimer: Cruelty free. This sentence was not tested on humans or animals.

 

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Wearing of the Green – a Day to be Irish

St. Patrick’s Day began as a religious feast observance on the supposed date of death of a patron saint (c. AD 385–461), missionary  to Ireland. That continues for a few. For the rest of us, this day is about luck, prosperity, a bright future, and wearing of the green.

My childhood memories of St. Patrick’s Day were filled with stories about green clover, leaping leprechauns, and a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. These traditions were handed down to me at school or by friends, even from window shopping at local stores, but not at home.

I grew up during the “pinching days.” If no green was visible, childhood friends pinched the other child on the arm. Emerald green wasn’t a color in the homemade wardrobe Mama sewed for her young twins. If I forgot to pin a clover from our yard to my dress, I became the most pinched girl of the day.

When I married a Moore who relished his Irish ancestry, St. Patrick’s Day became a joyful time without the pinches. Decades later when I became a foster parent, construction paper clover and leprechaun stickers resurfaced. I baked cookies sprinkled with shimmering green sugar. I added drops of green food coloring to dinner dessert. It was fun to be Irish for a day. Then single again, I continued to sport the tiny plastic shamrock I’d worn for more than twenty years. Last March I lost it while shopping.

My twin participated in the Parker lineage DNA project. The results were surprising. Thomas Bryant Parker, our second great grandfather, was Irish. Now that I have a drop of Irish blood in me, perhaps I’ll buy a new shamrock pin.

Oh, yes. I’m one clover leaf ahead of St. Patrick because history says he was Romano-British, not Irish.

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Saving Daylight

When I was in first grade, my mother let my twin and me play with neighbor kids anywhere on our block in our small town if their parents were home. Her safety rule was to “be home by dark.”  I had several close calls when I dashed onto the covered front porch in the waning light of sunset. I needed more light after school.

Piggy Bank

One cool spring day at the end of World War II, I overheard my father talking about the return of “War Time.” War sounded terrible to me until he said it was a way to save daylight like people did during the war. Grandpa Carr had saved cans for dimes in the war. Maybe I could save time like pennies in my amber glass piggybank. Excited about a way to prolong sunset and play longer, I asked him what it had been like to save time.

He harrumphed and shook his head. “Like cutting off one end of your blanket and sewing it on the other end to make it longer.”

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Creative Art

A quilter or seamstress invests in the machine best suited for her hobby. She has a sewing room stocked with shelves of materials, trims, and embellishments. A knitter has baskets of yarn, pattern books, needles, and accessories. Artists have easels, paints, and brushes. Most of these crafters have supplies they will never use.

A silhouette artist works with minimal materials. A person chances by. A smile or turn of the head alerts the artist. From a canvas of black paper, he captures the profile with clean, sharp blades. He creates curves and angles that detail the subject. The framed product becomes a visual treasure.

My sewing machine and serger sleep like Rip Van Winkle. My knitting baskets overflow with yarn, needles, and supplies. I’ve donated my colored pencils and construction paper to a charity.

I’m a writer. My hands are my tools. I mold the shape of a head, add a beard or mustache, and dress a dapper character. If the look isn’t pleasing, no need to rip out stitches, or change the canvas, or discard the paper. I can add a hat, shave the beard, and update the wardrobe—all with words that dance across my computer screen at the command of my fingertips.

Words

 

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Some, someone, somewhere

caution-642510__180Writing classes often emphasize more about omissions than inclusions. To-be verbs like am, is, are, was, and were top the list followed by –ly adverbs. The same instructors tell wannna-be authors to eliminate indefinite words like some, someone/somebody, somewhere and skip the menu details.

But wait! What about New York Times best-selling author Stuart Woods? Here’s his narration from Collateral Damage after more than fifty books published.

vegetables-pixabayStone Barrington, the protagonist, is looking for dinner ingredients.

  • Stone found some Italian sausages, some mushrooms, some broccoli rabe, and some garlic.
  • He ran some water into a pot…
  • He found some ziti in a cupboard…
  • Then he chopped some onion…

From another paragraph on the same page:

  • Stone had bid on some books but didn’t get them.

pasta-shrimp-pixabayThese writing examples make me hungry. I’m going to search the fridge for some leftovers. After I eat, I’ll edit my crime fiction to mention some angel hair pasta with some sautéed shrimp my protagonist is eating at home after losing someone she was tailing somewhere on her night watch when somebody got in her way and she lost sight of her mark.

Sherlock Holmes Statue -Edinburgh

Some detective she is. I’ll give her another chance to redeem herself somewhere after my next edits.

 

 

 

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Grammar Cop

computer-books-pencilsThere much ado on Capitol Hill about the importance of spelling. It’s about time. Ask me. I’m a grammar cop with a badge to prove it.

I’m a writer—at least that’s how I use to identify myself before I realized that editing is my niche. I’m a member of California Writers Club Tri-Valley Branch also known as Tri-Valley Writers. I’ve been part of a novel group, one of the individualized critique groups that meet monthly. There I’m known as the grammarian—often editing English more than critiquing the story.

Grammar Police Award

Grammar Police Award

Long before Trump was elected president, Lani Longshore, a multi-talented crafter, presented me with a Grammar Police shield embroidered on the right inside of a folding credential case. My editing card fits in a clear plastic slot on the left. I seldom have to flash it because most writers know I spout Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) rules as often as President Trump tweets.

If I had made this award public sooner, perhaps the U.S. Library of Congress would have consulted me (or at least the 16th Edition of CMOS) and been spared the embarrassment of a grammar error in President Trump’s inaugural poster.

Too late to correct the posters but production has been halted. If you bought a first run at $16.95, the odds are that someday it will be a collector’s item—not because of the grammar error but because of the wasted taxpayer dollars for a reprint that reads:

No dream 2 big, no challenge 2 great…

 

 

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Punxsutawney Phil, the Reluctant Groundhog

february-pixabay

Today, February 2, 2017 is celebrated by some and bemoaned by others as Groundhog Day. On this 131st weather prediction by Punxsutawney Phil, he resisted being dragged from his burrow. Why?

  • Maybe because nature says Phil is supposed to emerge from hibernation on his own, not be extracted by human hands.
  • Maybe because his sweet dreams were interrupted.
  • Maybe because he was exposed to the below-freezing temperature with no insulated underwear, top coat, hat, or gloves like the human handler.

groundhog-pixabayPhil’s predictions have only scored right for about half of these 131 years. I suspect it’s because his mind isn’t clear when his heart rate accelerates from the hibernation rate of about 16 beats or less a minute to a fight-for-life 80 beats when extracted from underground darkness.

Picking only Phil on this day every year hints of discrimination—maybe even a hate crime. My advice to Phil: Rest for the next six weeks, then get a good lawyer.

attorney-justice-pixabay

 

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