This article shall delve into a petty grumble, the focus of which is not necessarily the clarity of the Oxford comma when used rather than neglected, but the proposition that it should be used with consistency. We all know, however, that when such an earth-shattering matter as the Oxford comma is concerned, a “petty grumble” becomes a momentous declaration.
To begin, review the following sentence, one that humors me to an inordinate and inexplicable degree:
“When he asked ‘What in Heaven?’ she made no reply, up her mind, and a dash for the door.”
This excerpt from “Have Some Madeira M’Dear” might fool the average English speaker, if only for a moment. The mind makes a turn in an intellectual road, believing subconsciously yet with certainty that it is a correct one, then finds itself in a labyrinth constructed by those iniquitous idiomatic expressions with which the word “made” can be used.
The above serves as an example of zeugma.
The immediately above sentence serves as an example of ellipsis. Ellipsis, that mark of punctuation on which The Oxford Comma is Superior Subs pursues a disconcertingly vague policy? No, I’m talking about linguistic ellipsis, in which a word or multiple words are omitted where they are presumably meant. In the preceding one-sentence paragraph, it would more fully be, “The above sentence/excerpt serves as an example of zeugma.”
At this point, perhaps I’m rambling about fun grammatical structures that people should be aware they’re using, but I intend to draw you into the relevant realm of cognitive linguistics. Moving on, the sentence from “Have Some Madeira M’Dear” reminds us that though a sentence can be logically, technically correct in terms of grammar, there are instances in which our minds would be more comfortable with a certain approach.
Naturally, the illogicality of neglecting the Oxford comma is known to be considerably conducive to such cognitive chaos. (Sorry, I sometimes feel the urge to express alliterative clamor when condoned by the current conditions.) When I read such reprehensible sentences as, “I spent my day going to the store, enjoying the convenience of our stable economy and making the subsequent trip home,” my mind, as should that of any linguistically sound thinker, creates a relation between the first two items before at last finishing the sentence to learn that it is one comma insufficient. One who is at a store would enjoy the convenience brought about by a stable economy, correct? Consequently, the sentence could very well have taken a turn by which the second item of this list served rather as an apposition for the first item, as in, “I spent my day going to the store, enjoying the convenience of our stable economy, then did some other shizzle blah blah blah.” If the original sentence were to remain as it is, my mind, conditioned to follow the natural linguistic flow, would incorrectly assume that anything after the “and” is part of the aforementioned theoretical apposition.
This dreadful occurrence may very well force me to reread the entire sentence.
I hate reading.