Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Oxford Comma... and friends

I first heard of the Oxford comma on one of Dogberry's posts at Inky Fool

Punctuation named after places? Whatever next? Apparently it's the comma that you could (but may choose not to) put before the 'and' in a sentence list. 

As an example, here's what Simon Says at Writers Bureau had to say on the subject:

"I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis and JK Rowling." suggests that this author is the love child of Martin Amis and JK Rowling! ...To clarify the sentence, we need to insert the Oxford comma, before the word 'and', like so: "I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis, and JK Rowling."

But why is it called the Oxford comma? And are there other geographically-related punctuation marks I should know about? 

The Papworth Colon - for colons which need to be removed forthwith

Stratford-upon-Avon Quotes - for extravagantly-phrased theatrical spouting

The Westward Ho! exclamation mark - to describe exclamation marks used for decorative effect (including a sub section for multiple exclamation marks at Christmas - or the Westward Ho! Ho! Ho!!!)

The St Martins Lane* Apostrophe - in response to the Grocer's Apostrophe, this is for apostrophes notable only by their absence.

The Wallasey Ellipsis - any ellipsis with the wrong number of dots, which disregard the laws of God and man (in Wallasey there are no less than three roundabouts where the usual rules do not apply)

I'm not sure who should get custody of the Question mark:

Watford? Hooton? Howarth? Wensleydale? Somewhere in the Wye Valley?... or perhaps Pendle – where the whiches come from?


If there are any punctuation marks associated with place names that any of you have made up know of, do tell!

* No one's too rich to need the occasional apostrophe

Related post: My 10 Punctuation Pet Hates


  1. I am reminded of Elaine's exclamation marks on the sitcom Seinfeld. She worked as a copy editor and thought their use was cool.

  2. I hate to cavil, especially after such a charming post, but St Ives is named after one of the three St Ives: which is to say James is not an apostropheless possessive of a chap called Jame.

    Otherwise I thoroughly agree (and thank you for the mention). St Martins Lane exulcerates me.

  3. That was my kind of post. I'm not even going to try and compete. Great stuff.

  4. Paul - I've never seen Seinfeld, so I'm wondering how you could see the exclamation marks!?

    Dogberry - *blushes* OK, I've wiped St Ives out (hope no-one nukes it today or I'll be chief suspect!) and have cunningly substituted your suggestion. No-one will ever know...

    Fran - Glad you enjoyed! 8-D

  5. I've spent 24 hours trying to come up with the in-bred Norfolk hyphen or the like, but have to admit my mind has failed.

  6. Didn't Vampire Weekend have something to say about this?

  7. I had a brief love affair with the Oxford Comma sometime last year. For a while I used her all the time, even when she wasn't required. After a while I lost interest and began to feel the same as Vampire Weekend.

  8. Dave - Hmmm. We could expand it to include other linguistic phenomena. How about the Norfolk Expletive - where an innocent word is used in place of a similar-sounding swear word? e.g. Norfolking wonder!

    Rog - Apparently so... although what they're on about I have Norfolking idea!

    Rol - Welcome - you cad! That's no way to treat a blue-stocking punctuation mark.

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  10. I can only laugh? and laugh, and laugh!! Norfolking wonder [Wallasey ellipsis]. My mate's mother lived in Norfolk, so we had occasion to become acquainted with the well-known (!?) medical condition NFN (that is, normal for Norfolk).

  11. That's funny, Rainy - I used to have a mug saying 'Normal for Wallasey'.... NFW!