Sunday, July 3, 2011

Punctuation in the news

Last week, Jason Kottke tracked the fate of the Oxford comma at Oxford. Oxford University Press is for the comma. But the university’s “Branding toolkit” recommends the comma’s use only when such use clarifies a sentence’s meaning. My take: using the Oxford comma makes sense. If you always include it, you simplify in a small way the work of writing, and you never run the risk of unintended ambiguity.

Also in the news: the exclamation point, in a New York Times survey of e-mail habits. I think that sparing use of the exclamation point in work-related e-mail can be a good thing. “Thanks!” seems to suggest more-deeply-felt gratitude than “Thanks.” (The sample student-to-professor e-mail in my post on how to e-mail a professor has such a “Thanks!”) Much depends upon the conventions of a workplace: in the land of the low-key and terse, “Thanks!” will likely sound bubbly and overcaffeinated; in a more spirited environment, “Thanks” might sound begrudging. And In the right (or wrong) context, any expression of gratitude is likely to sound passive-aggressive:



Thanks a lot!
Related posts
E-mail and punctuation
How to punctuate a sentence
How to punctuate more sentences

[Should you ever need to enliven a discussion of punctuation, you might turn to this Oxford-comma conversation. It can bring a classroom to life and keep it there.]

comments: 3

Sean said...

I've always leaned toward "exclamation mark" rather than "exclamation point", owing to "question mark", though either is accepted. Of course, I'll avoid raising the specter of the interrobang. :)

Michael Leddy said...

I remember the interrobang, which seems to me a seventies thing, though it was invented in 1962. I think mark makes better sense, but I use point from habit.

William V. Madison said...

I'm all in favor of the Oxford comma, to the point where I can't think of an instance in which it doesn't help to clarify the meaning of a sentence. Regrettably, the magazine to which I most often contribute eschews the terminal comma in almost every instance, requiring me to remove it from my work just before I submit. Terribly confusing, and I dare say there are folks around Oxford who are now in the same boat.

Especially now that so many of us publish on-line, the need to save space (which commas do take up, in print) is now moot. Shouldn't this new reality give us further license to use Oxford commas -- even to render ourselves commatose?