Arika Okrent rounds up “The Best Shots Fired in the Oxford Comma Wars.”
It’s a nice reminder that the Oxford insistence on always including a serial comma can lead to absurdities just as easily as never including it can.
This creates a problem for fundamentalist partisans in the Oxford Comma Wars, but isn’t really a big deal for everyone else. Style books lean toward sweeping rules — they like to say “always” or “never.” But always will always get you in trouble eventually, and never will never keep you perfectly safe from ambiguity.
So use the Oxford comma in a sentence like “She took a photograph of her parents, the president, and the vice president,” because without it the sentence is ambiguous and potentially misleading. Enjoy a chuckle over “the strippers, JFK and Stalin,” but do so as a reminder of why a serial comma is needed in sentences like that one, not in all sentences, everywhere, because rule.
If you shove an Oxford comma into a simple list that doesn’t need one — “red, white, and blue” — the only thing you’re communicating to readers is that you have a rule and you’re going to follow it no matter what it does to the rhythm of a sentence.
Well, that, and that you should never be allowed to sing “Stars and Stripes Forever” or “Scarborough Fair.”
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Dave Lartigue describes what has started to bug him about Sherlock and Elementary, and in so doing makes me realize that something bugs me about Sherlock and Elementary too. “I’d Prefer Less Moriarty,” he writes:
In the stories we don’t marvel at [Sherlock Holmes] stalking Jack the Ripper or D.B. Cooper or Dr. Moriarty, we look at him taking interest in an oddball case involving a dude “hired” to copy pages from a dictionary, or about a guy who gets orange seeds in the mail. These are the cases that interest Holmes, and then us as he uncovers the plots behind them.
Moriarty was no part of this until he was clumsily introduced in a story specifically to kill off Holmes. Suddenly this diabolus ex machina was wheeled in, awkwardly retconned as the man behind all the crime, and then dispatched. Never mentioned before, barely mentioned afterwards. Now he’s the third most important character in the Holmesiverse, and I don’t know how he got there.
The thing that bothers me about Moriarty, and especially when it came to Sherlock and now Elementary is that not only does he come in as the big bad, he also brings with him the old personal vendetta. He’s not The Napoleon of Crime, he’s The Guy Who Really Effin Hates Sherlock Holmes, and he doesn’t just do crimes, he has it in for Holmes specifically. Once he walks on stage, Holmes stops solving crimes and starts a deadly game of cat and mouse where this time it’s personal. What we tuned in to see is cast aside: we know who the bad guys is (Moriarty) and what the endgame is (defeat Holmes).
It also bugs me at this point because it turns the plot into exactly the kind of plot I hate, the one where the good guy and the bad guy just have a giant pissing contest around the city and usually a bunch of faceless innocent nobodies get caught in-between. I hate this story. I don’t like it when the hero is in a situation where, honestly, we’d be better off without him.
If I had to give a name to what he describes in that last paragraph, I think I’d call it The Joker Problem.
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We have another convert. Sarah Bessey confesses:
I heard about it forever but I don’t like sci-fi or alien stuff. But I grabbed the first season (starting with the ninth doctor) and decided to give it a go. After the first episode, I thought it was a horrible show with cheap special effects. … All of a sudden, right around episode 9, I lost my mind and became completely addicted. I’ve blasted through Series 1 and I’m halfway through Series 2. I’m a converted New Whovian, drinking from a firehose.
One of us, gabba gabba. …