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Dreams Of A Middle-Aged Grandfather

June 23, 2021


I have ten grandchildren. Someone pointed out a while ago that my signature block at the end of each post is very poorly written for a writer.

. . .He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. . .

I was never a fan of the Oxford comma. In this sentence I’ve not used it deliberately. If you are unfamiliar with the Oxford comma controversy, I don’t blame you. It’s one of those arguments that the people involved are passionate about and people not involved don’t understand what the big deal is.

The Oxford comma is that second comma just before the word “and” when you are listing three items.

We bought apples, oranges, and grapes.

The comma after “oranges” is an Oxford comma. I could write that sentence in the following way without the Oxford comma.

We bought apples, oranges and grapes.

That’s it. That’s the difference between an Oxford comma and not using an Oxford comma. Who cares, right? Well, Khrushchev and Kennedy care. One of the most famous examples in favor of the Oxford comma is the following sentence.

We invited the strippers, Khrushchev, and Kennedy.
We invited the strippers, Khrushchev and Kennedy.

The first sentence describes a very awkward diplomatic conference. The second sentence describes the former leaders of the world’s taking up a new profession. A comma makes the difference between an international scandal and. . .well, two of the ugliest exotic dancers ever.

I don’t have a really good reason for not using the Oxford comma. I tend to think of it as an e.e. cummings, “don’t capitalize your name” or a Hemingway, “Never use a word that will force readers to the dictionary” thing. Anyway, I’m firmly in the camp of “No Oxford comma.”

And that brings me back to my signature block. The lack of the Oxford comma, like the unfortunate example with a former president and chairman, introduces some ambiguity. Reading through it, do I have 13 children and an unnumbered amount of grandchildren? Or do I have a total of 13 children and grandchildren combined?

I have ten grandchildren. I have 13 children. Why the ambiguity? Why not reword the sentence to make it clearer?

You are allowed to break the rules if you first understand the rules.

Like everything, there are rules in writing. And one of the first rules is to be clear. If a reader doesn’t understand a passage, it’s the author’s fault, not the reader. I know that. I’ve taught that to people.

And I intentionally broke that rule. I broke it because my kids and grandkids have their own stories to tell. I try to keep them out of my stories as much as possible.

But, today I just wanted to brag on my grandkids a little: all ten of them. There are four boys and six girls. The oldest is seven. The youngest is just starting to crawl. They are white, black and Latino.

Was that last sentence somewhat ambiguous?

Wonder how that happened?

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2021 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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