Commas Do Matter, at Least in Court

The Oxford Comma is the last comma before the final item in a list, for instance: dogs, cats, birds, and fish. The comma before “and fish” is the Oxford Comma.

Now in modern American English, use of the Oxford Comma has been denigrated, meaning that it’s optional in most cases. I personally tend to eliminate it unless doing so would render the sentence harder to understand.

A dairy in Maine will now have to pay $5 million in back overtime wages because of a missing Oxford Comma in a state law, which stipulates that workers are exempt from overtime when in the process of “…marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of” products.

The workers argued in their lawsuit that, though they distributed, they did no “packing,” and therefore they were not exempt.

Judge David Barron agreed, writing at the beginning of his 29-page ruling: “For want of a comma, we have this case.”

The state has now remedied the law by using semicolons throughout the list.


Peoplekind, Unite — You Have Nothing to Lose Except Your Gender

Canada, which this year purged its national anthem to make it gender-less, is now leading the charge toward political correctness.

You may have seen the video in which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau corrects a young woman who uses the word “mankind” and advises her to use “peoplekind” instead “’cause it’s more inclusive.”

The woman — and the audience — agreed with smiles and cheers.

When his own nation turned on him for the comment, a week later Trudeau said it was all “a dumb joke.”

“Dumb” I agree with, and “joke” seems to apply to the office of the current prime minister of Canada.

‘Once in a Blue Moon’

This Jan. 31, you’ll be able to experience something that hasn’t happened in 150 years — a Super Blue Blood Moon.

blood-moon“Which is?” you ask.

A Supermoon occurs when the orb is closest to the earth. A Blue Moon transpires when a Supermoon occurs a second time in the same month.

As for Blood, that indicates the Blue Moon is being accompanied by a total lunar eclipse.

The last such occurrence was in 1866, and there won’t be another until 2047. So this Jan. 31 is an optimal time to take in a rare Super Blue Blood Moon.

The eclipse will reach totality at 5:29 a.m. PST / 8:29 a.m EST, giving the Moon an eerie red appearance.

Continue reading “‘Once in a Blue Moon’”

Happy Holidays and Many Happy Returns (for Me)

Happy Holidays” is a pretty simple grammatical construction, as are “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,” “Happy New Year” and various other celebratory sayings. But we use “Many Happy Returns” without, at least in my case, understanding what it means.many-happy-returns-explained

I’m a weirdo who’s lived way too long for my meager abilities and accomplishments, but my 39th birthday (being celebrating for something like the 39th time) arrives this Sunday, on Christmas Eve. Now I follow astrology, numerology, Buddhism, Friedrich Nietzsche, the Akashic Records, The Lotus Sutra and Tao te Ching (The Way) as guides to my life and basically the meaning of existence.

So today when my birthday numerology report arrived, I was pleased to learn what “Many Happy Returns” means. As it turns out, on each of our birthdays, the sun returns to the exact position it was in when we were born. Thus “Many Happy Returns” — may the sun bless you for many times in the future.

There you go. Who woulda thunk it?

PS Can anyone explained why do’s has an apostrophe before the s but don’ts doesn’t?

Most Annoying Word in the English Language

It wouldn’t be my choice, but a poll by Marist College determined that “whatever” is the most annoying word in the American lexicon for the ninth straight year.

grammar-source-answer-to-all-your-English-questionsThe poll was conducted Nov. 6-9 of 1,074 adults with an error factor of 3 percent.

Now, if I were asked to pick the most annoying (and meaningless) word in use by most Americans, I’d say it’s “awesome.” The use of “awesome” appears to be a substitute for people who can’t formulate a sentence around what they really feel.

“How was the movie?” “Awesome.”

“How was dinner?” “Awesome.”

“How was your death?” “Awesome.”

Anyway, you get the idea.

The rest of the list of the top five, in order, consists of “fake news,” “no offense,” “literally,” and “you know what I mean.”

Now, that’s an awesome list, you know?

Is It Ever Okay to Use ‘They’ as a Singular Pronoun?

No heads turn when someone says, “Everyone is bringing their own lunch.”

Except … it should be, grammatically speaking, “Everyone is bringing his own lunch.”

This brings up the whole question of our ubiquitous use of they and their as singular pronouns and possessives. As I noted, no heads turn when people use the plural to modify a singular antecedent.

I mention this after reading an interesting article in the New York Times, “Toppling the Grammar Patriarchy,” which describes French teachers’ rebellion over defaulting to masculine forms even when the subject includes both male and female.

Here’s an example by author Carmel McCoubrey: [“I]f you wrote a sentence about attractive (beaux) étudiants and attractive (belles) étudiantes, the adjective used to describe them had to be masculine, too: “Les étudiants et les étudiantes sont beaux.”

Continue reading “Is It Ever Okay to Use ‘They’ as a Singular Pronoun?”

The Word I Lost a Bet On

This was way back in the Pleistocene when I was in high school, but I remember to this day arguing with an English teacher over the pronunciation of the word clique. I said click; he said cleek.

There was no Internet back then. In fact, electricity itself was pretty new, so we grabbed our classroom dictionary (probably Webster’s, but who knows?), and sure enough, cleek was the only choice for pronunciation. I had lost our gentlemen’s bet.

My, how the times have changed. I just checked dictionary dot com and the pronunciations (now two) were given in this order: kleek, then klick.


The Case of ‘As Long As’
v. ‘So Long As’

Okay, so my “fake news” post bombed. Let’s move on to real grammatical issues.

Almost everyone I hear or read uses the phrase “as long as” in the conditional sense, as in, “as long as you don’t care, neither do I.” Wrong!

The phase “as long as” is a comparison of lengths. “That building is as long as three football fields” is one example of correct usage.

“So long as” is a conditional phrase, as in “so long as you don’t care, neither do I.”