The importance of… pausing right

Ron Burgundy would be proud.

From the vaults: A funny rant about emoticons

I’ve just been doing a little bit of housekeeping, fixing up old broken YouTube links in my archives. And I found this gem that deserves more attention now that I have more than 10 readers.

Don’t use emoticons, exclamation marks or say LOL if you’re not laughing and we’ll get on just fine. And you’ll also get on fine with this angry guy.

Oxford’s internal style guide outlaws the Oxford Comma

What!? (that should be understood as an interrobang).

Long-term, or even observent, readers will know that I have a soft spot for the Oxford, or serial, comma.

When I’ve been questioned on such usage in the past I’ve simply appealed to the authority of Oxford. But now. It seems. Oxford isn’t so into the Oxford comma, this from a style guide for marketing the university:

“As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write ‘a, b and c’ not ‘a, b, and c’. But when a comma would assist in the meaning of the sentence or helps to resolve ambiguity, it can be used – especially where one of the items in the list is already joined by ‘and’”

Talk about going off message – the brand guardians of the Oxford comma have lost the plot.

Via Kottke.

The Oxford Comma, it’s a serial…

A while back I paid homage to the Oxford, or serial, comma. The comma that comes between something and and and when the and is followed by something else in order to add clarity to a list.

For example. I like planes, trains, and automobiles.

That last comma. That’s it. Turns out it’s popular (see the comments on that post).

I’m posting now because I found this graphic – and I think it’s nice.

Nice like an Oxford comma.

Vampire Weekend also wrote a song about everybody’s favourite comma (with a slight language warning).

An ode to the Oxford Comma

I love the Oxford Comma. The comma that comes between and, and the word after and, or the comma before that or.

I think it improves clarity. And when I’m proof reading a non-Oxford user’s text I constantly have to resist the urge to plug them in.

The Oxford Dictionary’s entry on the Oxford Comma (linked above) says:

“It’s known as the Oxford comma because it was traditionally used by printers, readers, and editors at Oxford University Press. Not all writers and publishers use it, but it can clarify the meaning of a sentence when the items in a list are not single words…”

I actually think it improves clarity in all circumstances. Not just when you’re writing a sentence about a list of meal options. Like Pizza, fish and chips, and McDonalds. But before all final ands. It just looks nicer.

Colons: the new dash

I tend to liberally pepper my writing with the humble endash (-) or emdash (–) to break up clauses and insert injunctions not worthy of parenthesis or new sentences. But I’m apparently behind the times. It seems the humble colon is the punctuation I need in these situations, it has many functions that I have failed to accommodate:

1. The lister: “The meal requires three ingredients: milk, eggs, and flour.”

2. The talker: “He shouted at the sky: ‘I’m retired!’”

3. The natural extension: “She saw him for what he was: a prodigy.”

4. The juxtaposer: “His face was red: the guests were staring.”

And now:

A new colon is on the march. For now let’s call it the “jumper colon”.

For grammarians, it’s a dependent clause + colon + just about anything, incorporating any and all elements of the other four colons, yet differing crucially in that its pre-colon segment is always a dependent clause.

I love this quote:

“To that end, rules be damned, a new punctuator has been born.

My plan for today:

Totally random thought:

Best meal ever:

That’s the jumper colon. Check out Twitter, Facebook, or Myspace and you’ll find one.

Last night: soooo crazy!

Punctuation can go viral. Syntax is a meme.”

It’s very rare that I ask personal questions here but: how’s your colon use going?

Underscores for emphasis?

Have I missed a memo?

When did underscores before and after _emphasised words_ become something that was acceptable?

It’s dumb. It’s like underlining but, if possible, less visually appealing and more likely to make me write you off as a writer.

What happened to using vocabulary to express emphasis. Some people are so stupid.

Here’s my order of what’s acceptable when you’re trying to emphasise stuff:

1. An emphatic word.
2. An adverb or adjective.
3. Bolding.
4. All caps.
5. An exclamation mark (just because I hate them).
6. Underlining.
7. Underlining and bolding.
8. Underscores.

Anything after 3 is pushing the envelope.

Not just a half colon

The Oatmeal tackles all sorts of grammar issues for your edification and improvement. This time round it’s the semicolon. Check out the whole thing here.

Double space

Dan just shared an article on the one space v two debate via google reader that had me scratching my head. I completely forgot that once upon a time a new sentence required two spaces. Seems I’m ahead of the curve on this debate. I can’t even remember the last time I double spaced. Does anyone out there still do that?


I would like to know where this rule comes from – but I can’t seem to find anything. Other than it just became broadly accepted because someone said so. Please. Enlighten me.
Part of the celebration of International Caps Lock Day is designing useful hacks to get your caps lock key to do something other than capitalise your writing**. I’m not sure what I’d get it to do.
Also, I think it odd that the Caps Lock key is not written in all caps. I also wonder why the keyboard is presented with capital letters when you have to hit shift to make the letters capitals by default.
Also – when it comes to capitals – we are minimalists according to our corporate style guide as mentioned previously. I still think you’re better off indicating that you’re shouting by using shouty words – ALL CAPS is just hard to read.  
* That link contains swearing and generally bad English.
** This one probably has swearing but the English is ok.

Coming soon to a keyboard near you

I was all set to post a “word of the day” type post using the word dilettante – which is essentially a dabbler in the arts – but not an expert – when James sent an email containing a word/new punctuation mark that could revolutionise the way people express themselves. The “Interrobang” – not only does it have a cool name, it combines a question mark with an exclamation mark. Like so:

 I can see it having all sorts of applications in rhetorical questions. Seriously though, I hate exclamation marks. They are a tool of lazy writers. The in house style guide I wrote for work basically bans them. If you can’t express yourself significantly without telling the reader specifically that something requires emphasis – you shouldn’t be writing. Bolding and underlining are also right out. As is bold underlining.

I also had a long running battle with a guy from work who I will refer to only as the “Capital Punisher” – he knows who he is. Perhaps he’ll find this blog. Capitals, like exclamation marks, are right out – and should only be used for proper nouns and at the start of sentences.

A funny rant about emoticons


Three posts in one day – if I post four I could make a Crowded House reference. Although posts and seasons aren’t really interchangeable.

Anyway – the purpose of this post is to point out a problem I have with the word so. lists an obscene number of meanings and contexts in which such a small, simple word can be used. It’s just confusing. So confusing in fact that’s I’ve had enough so I’m going to do something about it.

I imagine our predecessors were faced with a similar problem with the word to. It has a lot of meanings too. One of those is demonstrated in the previous sentence. My theory is someone clever realised you could get around the confusion by just adding an extra o on the end of to to create a whole new word. I aim to be clever too. One day people will look back and say putting that extra o on so made everything soo much clearer. So here goes.

From now on when so is used to indicated an increase (ie so much) I think it should be spelt soo. So to sum up. When so is being used as a conjunctive (I can’t believe I’m talking about grammar – this is the guy who sidestepped his father’s war on commas by an obsessive overuse of the -. I use so many -‘s now that the last time he edited some of my work he put commas back in) it remains the standard so. When it is used in its adjectival form soo much or soo cool it will now be soo.

Hopefully this will prove to be more popular than the word col (a more refined type of cool – which lasted for a couple of months before fading into the word graveyard – only to be resurrected on my blog many long years later).