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A Thought…

Ancient Rome declined because it had a Senate, now what’s going to happen to us with both a House and a Senate?

   — (attributed to) Will Rogers

The AP Dumb Squad

Posted on 2017-Apr-08 at 16:50:32 (last update on 2017-Apr-08 at 20:42:23) by Phil

Thanks a lot, Associated Press, for your style book that has played such a great role in the dumbing down of America. The two greatest sins committed in that tome are the dropping of the final s in a singular possessive, and the dropping of the Oxford (a.k.a. serial) comma in lists. Both were done, supposedly, in the name of saving a smidgen of ink in printing. However, the cost in reading speed and comprehension outweighs any savings in ink.

The dropping of the final s in a singular possessive (when the base word ends with an s sound) works like this: “Mr. Jones’s car” becomes “Mr. Jones’ car”. What’s wrong with that? Well, the man’s name is Jones, not Jone. A singular possessive is supposed to have ’s tacked on to its end, regardless of what letter it ends with. Thus, “Mr. Jones’s car” would be the correct way. “Mr. Jones’ car” could easily mislead someone into thinking there are more than one Mr. Jone, and this car belongs to them. Besides confusing people as to the rules of spelling, it’s not pronounced correctly. It’s supposed to sound like “Jonesez”, but people are misled by the missing s into mispronouncing it more like “Jones”. Really, is this worth the ink saved?

The Oxford comma saves even less ink in return for the potential confusion it causes. Now, a list of three or more items is supposed to end with “or last item” or “and last item”, depending on whether we are supposed to choose one of the list, or all of them. I suppose you could add “and/or”, meaning “choose at least one”, but that may be too informal. The correct form is “the Flag is red, white, and blue”. If you drop the Oxford comma to save ink, you get “the Flag is red, white and blue”. So? The list becomes ambiguous. Is it listing two colors: red, and “white and blue”, or three? If you say, “white and blue is obviously two colors,” how about something less clear: “the laundry steps are sort, wash and dry”. Is that two operations or three? How about, “the egg sizes are medium, large or jumbo”? You might argue that since a list must end with “or something” or “and something”, and have at least three items if you see any commas, that the true meaning can be puzzled out. There are two problems with this: one, it slows down reading comprehension by requiring that the reader stop and decode the list, and two, if the reader is not careful, they might miss the fact that it’s a list and combine the last two items into one. AP, just spend the extra ink and put the comma back in!

Now that more and more “printing” is done on screen, how about restoring those missing letters and commas? The faster reading and better comprehension is well worth it.

Posted on 2017-Dec-24 at 21:18:55 by Phil

Recently I have been copy-editing a technical book (pre-release), and the author refuses to use the Oxford comma in lists. I have to wade through sentences ending like: “…equipment manufacturers, dealers and distributors and diagnostics.” OK, after puzzling over the last five words for a moment, I can figure out that “dealers and distributors” is a single term, and “diagnostics” is the last term in the list. However, I’ve had to come to a complete stop to do this. Using an Oxford comma, it would read: “…equipment manufacturers, dealers and distributors, and diagnostics.” Isn’t that clear now?


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