Oxford comma query

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elasto
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Oxford comma query

Postby elasto » Wed Oct 23, 2013 11:13 pm UTC

To my shame, I suppose, it took me a while to work out why these sentences had different meanings:

"After beating the Steelers, Tim Tebow thanked his parents, God, and Mrs. Trunchbull."
"After beating the Steelers, Tim Tebow thanked his parents, God and Mrs. Trunchbull."

I think it's because I wouldn't formulate the humorous version that way at all. I'd write it as:

"After beating the Steelers, Tim Tebow thanked his parents: God and Mrs. Trunchbull."
or
"After beating the Steelers, Tim Tebow thanked his parents - God and Mrs. Trunchbull."

Am I technically wrong to do so? Even if I'm 'wrong', am I not pretty clear? (Clearer than the version above, anyhow!)

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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby eSOANEM » Wed Oct 23, 2013 11:19 pm UTC

A colon is the clearest punctuation for the humorous interpretation; the hyphen is not incorrect and neither is the comma.
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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby Derek » Wed Oct 23, 2013 11:26 pm UTC

A comma is the standard and most common punctuation in that situation, but the others are acceptable and can help avoid ambiguity.

An advantage of a comma there is that it works just as well in the middle of a sentence:

"After beating the Steelers, Tim Tebow thanked his parents, God and Mrs. Trunchbull, and doused the coach in Gatorade."

Using a colon here would be strange:

"After beating the Steelers, Tim Tebow thanked his parents: God and Mrs. Trunchbull, and doused the coach in Gatorade."

But I think a hyphen can still work, just add a closing hyphen:

"After beating the Steelers, Tim Tebow thanked his parents - God and Mrs. Trunchbull - and doused the coach in Gatorade."

Parentheses also work:

"After beating the Steelers, Tim Tebow thanked his parents (God and Mrs. Trunchbull) and doused the coach in Gatorade."

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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby Qaanol » Fri Oct 25, 2013 2:21 pm UTC

Em dash—not hyphen.
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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby Xenomortis » Fri Oct 25, 2013 2:36 pm UTC

elasto wrote:To my shame, I suppose, it took me a while to work out why these sentences had different meanings:

"After beating the Steelers, Tim Tebow thanked his parents, God, and Mrs. Trunchbull."
"After beating the Steelers, Tim Tebow thanked his parents, God and Mrs. Trunchbull."

It would probably be a lot more obvious if different names and were used; this for instance:

"After winning the game, John thanked his parents, Maria and Simon."
I would read that as John thanking his parents, called Maria and Simon.

With a comma, it would be a lot clearer that Maria and Simon are being thanked in addition to his parents.

Sure, to avoid the ambiguity, I might use a different form of punctuation.

Or the sentence might be formulated like this.
"John thanked his parents, Maria and Simon, and God and his coach."
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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby jaap » Fri Oct 25, 2013 6:25 pm UTC

Xenomortis wrote:"After winning the game, John thanked his parents, Maria and Simon."
I would read that as John thanking his parents, called Maria and Simon.

With a comma, it would be a lot clearer that Maria and Simon are being thanked in addition to his parents.

Sure, to avoid the ambiguity, I might use a different form of punctuation.

Or the sentence might be formulated like this.
"John thanked his parents, Maria and Simon, and God and his coach."

I didn't know God had a coach.

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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby Xenomortis » Fri Oct 25, 2013 6:29 pm UTC

Sure he did.
(It was deliberate)
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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby speising » Tue Jun 26, 2018 8:45 am UTC

Ok, the current SMBC features this line:

SMBC wrote:There are two types of people: those who like the oxford comma, morons and pedants.


Please help me parsing that: which are the two types (where would i have to place the parentheses?)

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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby Flumble » Tue Jun 26, 2018 12:44 pm UTC

I believe getting more and more certain the joke is that he removed an "oxford comma" that was actually the comma to end a subclause(?):
There are two types of people: (those who like the oxford comma, morons,) and (pedants).

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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby speising » Tue Jun 26, 2018 2:34 pm UTC

Flumble wrote:I believe getting more and more certain the joke is that he removed an "oxford comma" that was actually the comma to end a subclause(?):
There are two types of people: (those who like the oxford comma, morons,) and (pedants).

so those who like the oc are morons, and all others are pedants? that doesn't seem right. i mean normally, you'd only want to insult one of the groups.

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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby Soupspoon » Tue Jun 26, 2018 3:16 pm UTC

That's why; its funny?

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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby Sableagle » Tue Jun 26, 2018 3:54 pm UTC

It could be a bizarre extension of the joke that "There are two kinds of people in the world, those who can extrapolate from incomplete data ... "

In this case, it'd be that one kind like Oxford commas and are morons and pedants ...
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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby Eebster the Great » Tue Jun 26, 2018 5:59 pm UTC

My best theory at this point is that he made a mistake or doesn't fully understand how commas work.

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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby Flumble » Tue Jun 26, 2018 7:14 pm UTC

Or he's nerdsniping.

I also vote for Weinersmith having accidentally the joke.

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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby Bloopy » Tue Jun 26, 2018 9:58 pm UTC

I think he's saying the two groups are morons & pedants, both of whom like the Oxford comma. In the same way that the two parents are God & Mrs Trunchbull when the comma is absent in OP's quote. So I'd parse it in my head like this:

Those who like the oxford comma: morons, and pedants

The sting is that an Oxford comma can't be inserted into his sentence, because then the "two types" is off.

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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Jun 26, 2018 10:00 pm UTC

I mean, the sentence is incorrect any way you parse it, so why not choose the "two" part as the thing you disregard?
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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby Qaanol » Sun Jul 01, 2018 9:54 pm UTC

It’s worth noting that ambiguity is *also* possible when an Oxford comma is included:

“He thanked his mother, Athena, and his training staff.”

If the second comma were removed, the sentence would have only one meaning.

…and then there are sentences which are ambiguous irregardful of whether a second comma is present:

“The survivors thanked their rescuers, the Olympian gods, and their shield-bearers.”
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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby Zamfir » Mon Jul 02, 2018 7:37 am UTC

Just use powerpoint with bullet points.
The survivors [ included picture ] thanked:
* Their rescuers [ woosh from the left]
* The Olympian gods [ woosh from the right]
- [nested bullet] Also their shield bearers! [Blink Blink]

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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby Eebster the Great » Mon Jul 02, 2018 3:40 pm UTC

Or maybe it's time to upgrade the en dash from relative obscurity to doing some roles of the overloaded comma, making all these sentences unambiguous.

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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Jul 02, 2018 3:46 pm UTC

You mean the em-dash?
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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby Soupspoon » Mon Jul 02, 2018 4:15 pm UTC

Wot, no love for the el-dash, doubleyou-dash and slash/backslash-dash?

:P

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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby Sableagle » Mon Jul 02, 2018 5:13 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:Just use powerpoint with bullet points.
The survivors [ included picture ] thanked:
* Their rescuers [ woosh from the left]
* The Olympian gods [ woosh from the right]
- [nested bullet] Also their shield bearers! [Blink Blink]


One day, I would like to stand up at the front of a classroom and explain something perfectly while clicking through a completely-unrelated PowerPoint presentation that explains something else perfectly.

It'd be interesting to see how many students understood either or both of the subjects at the end, but it'd also have made a point about the weird turn-of-the-millennium obsession with using PowerPoint for EVERYTHING EVER ALL THE TIME!
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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby Eebster the Great » Tue Jul 03, 2018 4:23 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:You mean the em-dash?

I can't remember. I think I meant the en dash, since distinguishing it from an em dash would be as important in the disambiguating game as from a comma. It wasn't a serious suggestion.

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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Jul 03, 2018 11:46 am UTC

I know it wasn't serious, but em-dashes are the ones already sometimes used to set apart parenthetical or appositive information, which is usually how people construct ambiguous comma examples.
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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby jewish_scientist » Sun Jul 15, 2018 5:44 pm UTC

Sableagle wrote:
Zamfir wrote:Just use powerpoint with bullet points.
The survivors [ included picture ] thanked:
* Their rescuers [ woosh from the left]
* The Olympian gods [ woosh from the right]
- [nested bullet] Also their shield bearers! [Blink Blink]


One day, I would like to stand up at the front of a classroom and explain something perfectly while clicking through a completely-unrelated PowerPoint presentation that explains something else perfectly.

It'd be interesting to see how many students understood either or both of the subjects at the end, but it'd also have made a point about the weird turn-of-the-millennium obsession with using PowerPoint for EVERYTHING EVER ALL THE TIME!


I predict that very few student will understand either of the subjects, because humans cannot interoperate 2 types of verbal input at the same time. They would have to switch back and forth between listening to you and reading. What is really weird is that even if the PowerPoint was the exact text of your lecture it would still diminish the results. The correct way to use PowerPoints is to provide non-verbal information, graphs and pictures.

I would like extra Nerd Points for having that last sentence make sense syntactical and semantically with and without the Oxford comma.
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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby Soupspoon » Sun Jul 15, 2018 11:04 pm UTC

(There's no OC there right now. If you put one in it only makes sense if pictures are not non-verbal while graphs are. Without it suggests that neither graphs or pictures are non-verbal. Replace the standard non-Oxford comma with a colon and it would read most accurately (in a different manner). You may get the Nerd points anyway if I've missed something else due to Garden Pathing towards my own interpretations, of course.)

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Re: Oxford comma query

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Jul 16, 2018 2:02 pm UTC

If we don't assume Oxford comma as norm, it's a list of three things:
(1) non-verbal information
(2) graphs
(3) pictures
in which case you're counting graphs and pictures as different from non-verbal information, which while grammatically correct and semantically meaningful, does not convey the meaning you were likely trying to convey.

If we assume there would be an Oxford comma if those were a list, then just the comma seems wrong. Either you'd use a colon, or you'd add a signal word or phrase such as "such as" to make it clear that those are examples of said non-verbal information.

So no, I don't think you'll be getting any nerd points for that attempt.
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