What Am I Up To? Oh, Nothing, Just Starting Fires on Twitter

With punctuation!

Have a lovely Friday, everyone.

106 Comments on “What Am I Up To? Oh, Nothing, Just Starting Fires on Twitter”

  1. The Oxford comma is very useful! It’s a very good indicator that if you have on in your sentence it’s needs to be rewritten so that it’s not a clunky mess.

  2. When it comes to ending sentences, spaces are like zombies: If you want a full stop, you need to double-tap.

  3. I use Oxford commas, I might set fire to puppies (but only hell-hound puppies, and they like it), and I’m an above average dancer… but I certainly never cut in on anyone’s dance with their crush. That would be rude.

    We don’t speak of the movie spoiling thing. Not ever.

  4. On the other hand, people who don’t use Oxford commas are prone to attributing their success to their parents, Ayn Rand and God.

  5. The Oxford comma is the difference between “I invited two hookers, grandma, and aunt Kathy to the party.” and “I invited two hookers, grandma and aunt Kathy to the party.”

  6. I double space after sentences, use the Oxford comma, and keep fighting with auto-correct that they are spelled “honour” and “armour”.

  7. Thank you Jason! We didn’t cover that in Veterinary School for some odd reason… Osmolar Coma yes, Oxford Comma no… I hate it when I can repeat a joke, but not really understand what it means…

  8. Are we running out of blank spaces? Or is this just a sneaky way for the young ‘uns to figure out who’s so old they learned keyboarding on a typewriter?

  9. I will readily admit my adherence to two spaces after a sentence is mere habit because of the way I was taught clear back in the day. However, I have run into too many sentences that were unclear whether two items were related when they didn’t have the Oxford comma to think that you are anything but a madman who wants people confused. It’s uncommon enough that I can’t think of an example off the top of my head, but they do exist, and sometimes completely alter the meaning of a sentence. For shame, Scalzi, for shame!

  10. As a fan of the Oxford comma, those tweets made me laugh. If I write something in AP Style, I drop it…and it hurts a little bit each time. But…if you want me to use a tilde instead of a comma and space seven times after each sentence — if the pay is right — I’ll write to any style.

    When the apocalypse comes and you see the fortress of those using the Oxford comma (we will rise above those who do not and rebuild first), I bet you won’t cringe when you read our banner: “We have food, water, and books for all.” (We are, after all, a civilized people.)

  11. I also am an unrepentant serial comma user, and I think Lynn Truss says it best: “There are people who embrace the Oxford comma, and people who don’t, and I’ll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken.” I’m now off to have a cold brew.

  12. We Canadians favour the Oxford comma, partly to honour our British roots. There’s not a tonne of difference between Canadians and our American neighbours, hardly a moustache’s width, but I could catalogue a few for you if you’re interested.

  13. I am reminded of what a University prof told me once: The fight is so savage because the stakes are so low.

  14. Oxford commas forever!

    I used to double-space after a full stop. Then I talked to people whose professions required more much writing than mine does, and they mocked me for my sad, sad pre-proportional-font ways, so I stopped. It took about a month before reading pages with double spaces seemed strange and wrong, and now it bugs the crap out of me.

  15. Oooh, being all fancy and calling it the “Oxford comma”. I guess “serial comma” is just too common a phrase for such a posh writer as yourself ;-).

    I agree with you, and happily CMOS says it’s acceptable either way.

  16. As an Oxford comma user, I can accept most of that as fair comment. But to put us in the same category as the people who use two spaces after a full stop? You have made an enemy on this day…

  17. At a recent convention, I met John Scalzi, a furry and a conservative blogger.

    Wait a minute. An Oxford comma would clearly indicate I met 3 different people instead of one person. Oh well, John doesn’t like them, so it must be correct as written :-)

  18. I laughed until I cried. Thanks for the humor!

    Interestingly enough, I don’t use them myself but do teach them to my 5th graders because of the other teachers who insist on it. I actually teach them that it is optional…

  19. Mr. Scalzi, I take issue with your characterizations of Oxford comma users: I never set fire to puppies, nor use double spaces after periods; I’m a *below* average dancer, yet still would have attempted to steal your Jr High crush with my mad punctuation skills. Phthwibbet!

  20. I am hurt and your theory is wrong. Wrong I say!!!!
    I use the Oxford comma methodology AND I put two spaces after a period
    I DO NOT spoil movies for others and I am not a great dancer.

    I also put periods and question marks after the trailing quotation. So how are you going to deal with that.

  21. The Oxford (or if you prefer Serial) Comma is an absolute necessity,Scalzi, and I am disappointed that you have decided to join the side of darkness in this struggle. Perhaps once you realize that your comrades in rejecting its obvious advantages are to a person moral degenerates you would not trust with access to your refrigerator, you will realize the error of your ways.

    Now, spaces after periods, there is an area on which we can find common ground. I’m not convinced using two spaces after a period is an unforgivable sin, but I have noticed that an enormous proportion of the people who do so fail to do so consistently, and this drives me straight up a wall, especially when I’m editing someone’s manuscript. Given that the error is almost never made in the other direction, and is easier to fix with word processing software when it does happen, the logical answer is to stop telling people to use two spaces after a period.

  22. Another unrepentant serial-comma user here. (I am an above-average dancer who never cut in on anyone’s junior-high crush, and who, alas, has no puppies in her life, on fire or otherwise.) But I promise to re-think the double-space after a full stop.

  23. Double-spacing after periods? You are showing your age, sir. I believe that dates back to… manual typewriters. (Pauses to define what those are, decides to move on to something interesting).

  24. I use the Oxford Comma, and all of that is true. How am I supposed to heat my home without puppies? What am I supposed to burn – kittens? Bunnies? Babies? For SHAME, sir, implying I set fire to innocent children like that.

  25. John is right about the Oxford Comma. Omitting the serial comma means you might get multiple parse trees! OH NOES!!1! Have you talked to anyone working on Natural Language Processing? This is a problem not just with all of English grammar, but all human grammar. Insisting on using Oxford Commas does not fix this. It’s a tiny patch to one corner case of a general problem with grammar.

    Also, the multiple parse tree thing? That’s how punning works! Those secondary parse trees are great. I love them. Bring it on.

    OTOH, I must disagree with our Honorable Host, about the two spaces thing. I am a typesetting nerd. It’s an aesthetic. I mean, use French Spacing if you want to, but a bigger blank after each sentence adds a subtle beauty to the printed page. I like big spaces, and I cannot lie.

  26. I used to use the Oxford comma but that was before I knew what it was. Now I don’t use commas at all just to be safe.

  27. Last time I checked, the Oxford comma is Standard American English, particularly of the academic nature. I require them of my college freshman English students in their academic essays. What they do on Twitter is their business; SAE not required for Twitter. As for double-spacing after the period end stop to a sentence, I still think the typewritten copy looks better when doing so, even if they changed that style rule some time back. So there!

  28. Omission of the Oxford comma should be punished by the people, with appropriate use of pitchforks and torches.

    I no longer space twice after a period. For a while I was typing as I was taught and then globally replacing two spaces with one. Still have to do it in a fixed-pitch font, IMO…but who uses those anymore?

  29. Gamergaters hate the Oxford comma. So does the RSHD and so do the other Sad Puppies.


  30. If it’s the musical folks being subtly acknowledged, than dismiss.

    Otherwise, why would any writer of the English language dismiss a standard in agreement with The MLA Style Manual, APA style, The Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and the U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual? These are the default styles accepted by publishing houses.
    Good grammar allows the most efficient organization of critical thinking and is directly translatable to computer languages. Why degrade and deconstruct the standardized, readable form into some Ebonics-style ignorant idiocy unless the author is deliberately breaking standard form to better “dislocate language.” Only through low level English grammar, can the author begin to create a pallet that allows extremely unlikely tenses and points of view which may be handy in the Sci-Fi/ Fantasy genres, especially those involving time travel and unified– yet distributed– consciousnesses and points of view. But the standard pallet must be initialized first so that the reader so does not assume it is a typo. It is also a very good reason to demand to know who one’s editors are so that what appears to be an unthinkable tense to an editor may be the author’s way of implying a completely different manner of thinking.
    Foreign languages, especially ancient languages, have tenses and points of views which have no easy translation into English. There are such things as grammatical puns. Many ancient Greek texts were copies by the illiterate and had no spaces and no punctuation and thus meaning is discerned through the choice of where words stop and begin. Some peoples believe that text should be holographic and be understandable both forwards and backwards. When the author seeks new lingual geographies to explore artificial or alien intelligence, the use of standardization allows artistry to occur.
    I stick with the MLA in almost every case due to where I attended university; once learned it allows the author to proof his or her self. Just my 2 cents….

  31. She eats, shoots, and leaves. (Criminal avoids paying the bill)
    Se eats, shoots and leaves. (IMO clunky)
    She eats shoots and leaves, (Panda having a snack)

  32. Surely, John Blake Arnold, you mean “palette” in every instance where you used “pallet”? Unless you speak of wooden objects used to carry goods on forklifts?

    And I will defend the Oxford Comma to my dying breath, for it causes no difficulty and yet aids in the avoidance of confusion. Too, in its purpose as indicating a pause for breath, it more closely matches the most common rhythm of a spoken sentence in my experience.

  33. Not only do I use the Oxford comma, I also double space after full stops, PLUS I insist on people both spelling things correctly and picking the correct word from the suggestions offered by their spelling check program. “Defiant” is not the same word as “definite”; “lose” is not the same word as “loose”, and “sequins” and “sequence” have completely different meanings.

    Clearly I’m well on the way to becoming an Evil Overlord.

  34. OK, I’m going to have to provide my comma-ent re: Oxford. ::ducks and runs::

    As someone not of the writing persuasion, I ::confession time:: had to look up the definition of the Oxford comma. As someone who spends their day at a keyboard — middle-aged software person — I do double space after full stops as well as expecting my team to use white space in source code properly. Source code is for humans, not the compiler!


  35. Semicolon.
    I met some people today; A Rabbi, a Father and a meseff. We were about to walk into a bar but I know to look up and so only they were all “Clang!” “Ouch!” “My forehead!”

  36. I have always used Oxford commas, and I don’t give any sort of actual fuck what you think about it. It actually bothers me when people don’t use a comma before “and” when listing three or more items. Oxford commas were grammatically preferred when I went to school. I thought the OC hatred was a recent development that went along with the birth of the stupid Common Core learning.

    I was an English major in college. I didn’t fail, so I think my Oxford comma dependency is dignified.

  37. You, Mister Scalzi Twitter Troll, suck. Though that’s more a Shatner Comma… A Reader.. :)

  38. Dear Folks,

    At the risk of injecting unwarranted seriosity into the conversation… Because I bet someone here will know the answer…

    The style guidelines for SWE (Standard Written English) with regards to the serial comma CHANGED! It was sometime between when the likes of me and Teresa Nielsen Hayden were in public school (call it the 50’s-60’s, he said vaguely) and when my first book was written (mid-90’s). Under the old rules, you avoided the serial comma unless it was necessary to avoid confusion, as in the examples people have provided, above. Under the new (and current) rules it is to be used whether or not it is necessary.

    English is a living language. Stuff happens to it while we’re living it. As an English major, I’m OK with that.

    What I’d love to know, though is, WHEN did it change? Please, resident experts, show yourselves.

    pax / Ctein

  39. @ctein:

    I was first thrown into the public school system in the early ’70s. By the time I was beyond crayons and expected to write coherently, I’d say 1977 or so. Oxford comma was mandatory, but since it was all handwritten double stop was not yet an issue.

  40. I neither know nor care what an Oxford comma is. And I will NOT look it up! I refuse to be Scalzified into yet more Googling! ‘Snark arts’ was more than enough, thank you.

  41. I’m not sure someone who puts a comma before ‘but’ should be the one to throw stones (or punctuation tantrums.)

  42. Whoa!
    Who are you and what have you done with the real John Scalzi? He would never diss the Oxford comma in such a way (or in any way). Are you a body snatcher? Skrull? Martian? Fess up!

  43. I’m feeling very conflicted. Those on the double space after a period make good points. Those on the single space after a period make good points. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, so I’m going to start using three spaces after a period.

    Now, what about those people who say “you should always include the punctuation within the quotation marks”?

  44. The tyranny of Word Press has removed every triple space I so carefully typed into my last comment.

    Damn you Word Press, why do you discriminate against the triple spaced full stop?

  45. Proportional spacing makes double spacing after a full stop all the more necessary.

    So there. I even put a double space after my first sentence, just because.

  46. Judicious use of the serial comma can help with clarification sometimes. Not always needed, of course. As for two spaces after a period, I was ‘weaned’ off that while submitting an article for a website. Specifically by the webmaster who wanted to save space. Which essentially has nothing to do with writing, but there you go.

    So, stick that in you bong, John, and SMOKE it.

  47. Since the early days of settlement along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, what is now known as the serial comma has been used to keep the forces of chaos and sloth, and those important rivers at bay. A well undocumented historical fact. Surely there is no cause for excitement.

  48. Wait, there are people who don’t put two spaces after a period? To quote Amy Winehouse, what kind of fuckery is this?

  49. I grew up using WordPerfect, which for a while forced me to use the after-period double-space by making the first space after a period a hard space that wouldn’t cause a line break.

    I use Oxford commas because I work in a profession where ambiguity can get expensive really quickly.

    However, I may be committing a worse offense than adding lead to gasoline, because I use public transportation (electric trolley buses and subway trains) in a place which routinely burns lignite to generate electricity.

  50. But what about the semicolon!!!?
    We still have not addressed the semicolon issue!!

    (Note how I have superbly sidestepped and derailed on the issue of spaces after periods.)

  51. Oxford commas are good grammar in that they do indeed indicate a pause – that pause while you go “wait, what’s that comma doing there?”

    In my business we use AP Style, where you specifically omit the Oxford comma, and I will note that I have yet to have a reader who misunderstood my meaning because of that. Possibly this is because most sentences appear in context.

    I love grammar wars. They’re so much fun.

  52. I am reminded of what a University prof told me once: The fight is so savage because the stakes are so low.

    Often referred to as Sayre’s Law. Unsurprisingly, Sayre was both a political scientist and an academic, and specifically commented on academic politics.

    Independently deriving that was one of my great observations about politics back in University. (After finding out that for a while there were two separate Star Trek fan clubs in Toronto because of internal politics.) Though I suspect that anybody who deals with academic politics with any degree of self-reflection will conclude this eventually.

    My other main observation about politics is that there are people out there whose sole purpose in life seems to be to find a small enough pond that they can be a big fish in it. Sayre’s Law is almost a corollary of that, because people like that will defend their small pond out of all proportion with reality because they want to stay being the big fish.

  53. Really, we’re all just fiddling around the fringes here. Ambiguity will be overcome only when we govern meaning by a consistent non-overlapping use of brackets and commas, as in maths; “I want to thank my parents (Ayn Rand and God)”, or “I want to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

  54. Those who fail to use the Oxford comma (and/or fail to use two spaces following a period), will be responsible for the downfall of civilization.

  55. Ya know, I would leave out that double space after a period, just to make John Scalzi happy, but I’m pretty sure my fingers would put it in anyway.

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