Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

Musings about language, books, grammar, and writing in general

Archive for the month “December, 2012”

Grouchy Grammarians, or How I Learned to Love the Oxford Comma

Let me be right up front about it.  I am a devotee of the Oxford comma (aka penultimate comma).

For those who are too young to remember such things as parsing (diagramming) sentences, the Oxford comma is the comma that precedes and sets off the final term in a series (e.g., cars, boats, and planes).  Its primary purpose is to herald the end of the series but, like all commas, it is to give the reader or speaker a chance to pause and catch one’s breath.

I am aware that many people these days are dropping the use of the Oxford comma.  I do understand their reasoning, but I disagree with it.  Written English, as opposed to spoken English (which is much more colloquial) is formal for a reason:  to encourage clear, concise communication.  It also demands of its users a clarity of thought and expression that I find admirable.

Further, the Oxford comma is what I grew up with.  It’s that simple.  When I was in school, rules about written English were much stricter, and they were generally reinforced by our reading of quality literature (once the basics were mastered).  The rules we learned gave shape and rhythm to what we read.  It’s why I fell in love with language at an early age.

Can good books be written without the Oxford comma?  Certainly.  I’ve read stories that were compelling regardless of how grammatical (or not) they were.

Do I look down on those who don’t use it?  No.  Language changes and evolves, and I am well aware of it.  Heck, I use the occasional neologism myself.  However, the form of American English I am most comfortable with is the form I learned growing up:  Mid 1950s American Standard English, as taught in New York City public schools.

Is it the only acceptable form of English?  No, but it was designed to give the majority of people a common form of communication, thereby minimizing misunderstandings.

Therefore, I will continue to support the Oxford comma — as do many of my friends and acquaintances — even as I sadly acknowledge its passing from common usage.

Oh, no, not more books! (said with a groan)

Like most of the folks I know, I live with a lot of books. In fact, like most of the people I know, I have many more books than I have shelf space for. In further fact, it’s worse than that because my roommate, a retired telephone reference librarian, has almost as many books as I do.

We are in the process of digging out the living room (a long story talked about in a different blog).  And this means, in part, unpacking the books and getting them up on shelves, getting rid of books we don’t want any more (although that will mostly happen after the party), and otherwise dealing with books accumulated by two people who lived alone for most of their adult lives.  We have gotten the majority of the books on the shelves we do have, although we have several more boxes of books in one of the closets that will eventually need to be dealt with.

The roomie is having more trouble with this process than I am — she was putting it off until she could go through each box, organize the books, get boxes for the books she doesn’t want any more…and this has been happening for at least the eight years I have lived here.  We had a long talk this morning, and she has no idea why she was resistant to getting the last boxes of her books dealt with.

I had been putting things off, too, to be honest.  I had all my excuses:  my health, no place to use as a workspace to sort stuff; the eternal not enough shelf space.  But I have finally been making an effort.  There are still storage boxes (mostly with clothing) shoved against one wall, but the boxes of books (and records ([remember them?]) have been handled — at least the visible ones.

And my habits have changed over the years.  These days, if I want to read something, I generally borrow it from the library…although the occasional used bookstore trip happens.

I still have major sorting to do.  The cookbooks will stay, as will the craft books, as will anything that has been autographed to me.  Some of the classics will stay, and reference books, and books I reread on a regular basis.  But the majority of fiction will be tossed — or, if waiting to be read, read and tossed.  Yeah, it would be nice to put things on eBay or Listia, or even Freecycle, but fior my books I’m not sure it’s worth the time and effort.

The roomie and I have just decided to start a “Free Books” box, which we will eventually keep near the door so that friends can get first dibs on books we no longer want (Thanks, Thom and Tom, for the idea).

At any rate, we are figuring out ways to deal with the books we have, and how to create space for books we will acquire in future (no use pretending we won’t — we are readers).

So, let me ask:  How do you deal with the overflow of books?  How do you handle books you no longer want?

Reading in Cycles

I don’t know about you, but I have noticed I tend to read in cycles.

Lately, my leisure reading is concentrated in three areas:  mysteries, biographies, and books about food & cooking.

this is, of course, not a hard and fast rule.  I can be tempted by a book on the Brooklyn Public Library website that is outside of those areas, or a book by a friend — I have a ton of writers among my acquaintances.

But for some reason, this is how my reading habit works.  Some months I will read primarily books about writing, or organizing one’s stuff, or philosophy & religion books.  Other months, it will be craft books.  But I always seem to gravitate to one area for a while, then move on to another.

Do you read in cycles?  What are your favorite things to read currently?

Why Another Blog?

The short answer is that I am in love with language.  End of story.

A slightly longer answer is that I’ve been toying with the idea of another blog for a few months.  I wanted a place to write about thing dear to my heart that don’t quite fit in my other blogs, that is to say about books, reading, writing, language, words, and grammar, and other such things.

In my first blog, my most popular post was about grammar:  If I Ran the Zoo…(Just how important are proper spelling and grammar, anyway?)  I am, I should note, fairly old school about grammar;  I grew up, after all (to whatever extent I “grew up”), during the 1950’s and 60’s, and that is the grammar and usage I feel most comfortable with.  That said, I am not totally opposed to language evolving.  And I further recognize that there are marked differences in language used casually, used formally, used for business, used by non-native speakers, written v. spoken, etc.

And my love of language has led to a love of reading and thinking.

I hope you all will join me in exploring language and all its associated subjects.

Peace out.



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