Monday, April 4, 2011

I'm Sorry, But I Still LOVE the Oxford Comma

I believe a lot of things. I believe that the sky is blue and that water is wet. I believe in global warming and evolution. I believe that Coke products taste way better than Pepsi products. Some of my beliefs I can prove, some I have good evidence for, and others are just my judgments. But one of my beliefs was shattered today. What's more, it's a belief that, had you asked me about it yesterday, I would have been 90% certain that I was right about it. I wasn't.

You see, earlier today, I was typing up a little blog post like this one, and I was becoming increasingly frustrated that my blog editor was requiring me to drastically change my typing style. Back about a million years ago, when I was in junior high or high school, I learned that when you type, these are the rules:

  • two spaces after a period or colon
  • one space after a comma or semi-colon

I have no idea when I might have learned this. I never took a typing class, so it was probably some English teacher for whom I had to type up papers. Good student that I was, I learned these rules and have followed them ever since. But after my first blog post, I realized that if I put in the two spaces after a period, it was throwing off all of my alignments. It made my posts look really bad.

Now I had heard something somewhere about how formatting rules had changed and how the whole two space thing after periods had been abandoned. But I chalked that up to lowering grammatical standards, like teaching children that it's now ok to say "fishes" for the plural of "fish" or the fact that most newspaper style guides recommend against using the Oxford comma. Rubbish. I will not be participate in the dumbing down or loosening of standards just because people don't like them or are too lazy to follow them. This is the proper way to type, so this is how I type. (Yes, yes. I'm a bit of a prude. What's your point?)

It's been annoying me that every time I type a blog post I have to be extra careful to not type two spaces after the period. I type a lot for my job and this just something my fingers do without me thinking about it, so it really does require that I pay attention to it. So after a bit of typing today, my frustration with my inability to remember if I've typed in two spaces or one was growing. So I decided to Google it. And what do you know? I was 100% wrong. At least according to this Slate Article and also this Grammer Girl Article. They both basically say that the reason for the two spaces was a rule for typewriters that used mono-spaced fonts. If you're not typing with a mono-spaced font (I'm not), then one space is the rule.

So I now publicly admit that I was wrong about the two spaces and have already begun attempting to retrain my fingers to use the one space rule.

But I am not backing down on the Oxford comma. It just makes sense, people. It looks better and it lessens ambiguity - no matter what Vampire Weekend says.


Nicole said...

This is funny! I always use two spaces too - it's how I was taught and it's one of those things that's really hard to unlearn. I did know that the rules had changed, but it's just a hard habit to break. I don't use the Oxford comma, though! :-)

Bernadette said...

I too was taught the two and one rule and my thumb automatically does it when typing. One of these years we will be writing everything like they do in texting. There may become a time when the English language as we know it today cannot be read by the common man. After all how many can read old English easily.

OakParkGirl said...

At some point in the last few years I began using just one space after periods. I remember hearing about the 2 going to one becasue we're essentially not on typewriters anymore. Wierd how those things change slowly over time and you don't even notice. Also, I love that you rant about grammar and punctuation! :)

Also, no space to spare for extraneous blanks in tweets!

Heather H said...

I did not know that about two spaces vs. one. When my husband went back to college a few years ago and was using one comma after periods, I went ballistic and ranted for days about "them" dumbing down our society, etc. A lot of what you said above. LOL And I learned to type in the 90s and was taught two spaces after periods, so I really wonder about the author's argument that this rule went away in the 70s (before I was even born!). Computers were not PREVALENT until the mid- to late 90s.

I had to google what an Oxford comma was (LOL), but I totally agree with you!

RaRa said...

As an English teacher, here is my philosopy on commas: They are meant to create sentence clarity, so use them as such. Just be consistent. There is nothing that causes more confusion than inconsistency. (Hell, even if you're using commas wrong, but are doing it the same way everytime, the brain will understand it over the course of a paper or conversation.) But I also choose to use commas as little as possible becuase so many people use them in ways that actually disrupt the flow of a sentence/paper. The use of a comma and the "and" is redundant, so in the spirit of conciseness,no Oxford comma for me!

rubyspikes said...

OK, I love you all. People that care enough to comment on extraneous spaces and Oxford commas. Agree with me or not, you are my kind of people!

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