The Oxford comma, let me teach you it

[ I originally wrote this as a comment on a friend’s LJ in response to his reposting the below image, but wanted to also post the comment on my blog since it’s a subject I feel strongly about. ]

With the Oxford comma: we invited the strippers, jfk, and stalin.  Without the Oxford comma: we invited the strippers, jfk and stalin.

I personally, dislike, the Oxford comma, and, prefer, the Shatner comma.


Seriously, though, most of the examples folks use when illustrating the value of “the Oxford comma” follows this pattern:

“… Noun, ProperNoun and ProperNoun.”

In this specific case, I agree, the series (Oxford) comma is necessary. However, if the last three of the list elements are proper nouns, it’s not necessary:

“I went to England, Spain and France.”

Or, if none of the last three elements in the list are proper nouns:

“At the grocery store, please buy carrots, mangos and limes.”

What’s worse is when folks use the serial (Oxford) comma before a conjunction when NOT enumerating a list, like:

“I went to the store, and bought a book.” FUCK NO WRONG WRONG WRONG. This is NOT an Oxford comma, it’s called WRONG WRONGITY WRONG WRONG.


The accent meme

Here’s a meme I just couldn’t resist … thanks, Rich.

Here’s the idea: record yourself saying the following things and answering the following questions. Then compare your accent with your friends. Fun for all! :)


  • Your name and/or username
  • Where you’re from
  • The following words: Aunt, Roof, Route, Wash, Oil, Theater, Iron, Salmon, Caramel, Fire, Water, Sure, Data, Ruin, Crayon, Toilet, New Orleans, Pecan, Both, Again, Probably, Spitting Image, Alabama, Lawyer, Coupon, Mayonnaise, Syrup, Pajamas, Caught, Orange, Coffee, Direction, Naturally, Aluminium, Herbs.
  • What is it called when you throw toilet paper on a house? [on the night before Halloween?]
  • What is the bubbly carbonated drink called?
  • What do you call gym shoes?
  • What do you say to address a group of people?
  • What do you call the kind of spider that has an oval-shaped body and extremely long legs?
  • What do you call your grandparents?
  • What do you call the wheeled contraption in which you carry groceries at the supermarket?
  • What do you call it when rain falls while the sun is shining?
  • What is the thing you change the TV channel with?

And, here’s my video:

In the car, on the bus, revisited

So, my friend Gabrielle asked on Facebook:

Why do people say IN the van or IN the car but ON the bus? Why not IN the bus?

Seriously, this is such an oddity of English, one that must have come up before and certainly have been researched and answered by someone of authority, right?

Well, the best I could find searching the web was this entry in the old Language Log blog at UPenn which describes the phenomenon but doesn’t quite explain it. Not being satisfied by this dead-end, I decided to try and come up with a plausible explanation, myself.

What I came up with was this: “In my opinion, if you can ride while standing on a vehicle, you ride on the vehicle. If you must ride sitting, you sit in the vehicle.” This seems to hold for most of the examples cited in the Language Log entry linked above, except for bikes, which you certainly ride on, but ride while seated.

I guess I’ll have to admit that I’m a closeted wanna-be linguist, because I find languages so interesting. I’d venture to guess that most above-average intelligence native English speakers can naturally choose the correct preposition, either “in” or “on”, when referring to modes of transportation, but how do we do that? It seems natural and innate but there’s no way to codify a rule that describes its correctness? How can that be?

What do you think? Can you see a rule or set of rules that correctly describes the proper preposition in all these situations? Do you have insight into how we can naturally determine which preposition to use, but fail to express concise rules for such selection? Do you even care about this at all?

Let me know in the comments below.