Essential Intellectual References Weekly #7

Let's mess with grammar nazis!

Zack S. Westby Zack S. West

So I'm here today to quash some rumors about the intellectual community. We don't all know everything about grammar. And, more importantly, we don't feel the need to collectively correct all grammar all the time. The term a lot of people use is 'grammar nazi'. Well, I'm not one. I love words (obviously) and I love organizing them properly. But it's just as irritating to me as it is to you when somebody freaks out on my ass to cross my P's and dot my Q's. So, in honor of our collective hatred of grammar nazis – and as a Jew and Wolfenstein fan, their namesake – here are two ways I love messing with them.

Other than asking where they're keeping his frozen brain.

The Oxford Comma

Don't be intimidated just because you didn't go to Oxford. It's really not that complicated. Wikipedia defines the Oxford Comma, or Serial Comma, as simply "the comma used immediately before a coordinating conjunction (usually and or or, and sometimes nor) preceding the final item in a list of three or more items." See? No big deal.

Okay, if you're still confused, let's use it and see what happens. This specific comma has a number of names, such as the Oxford Comma, Harvard Comma, and Serial Comma. Didja miss it? I'll bold it this time. Remember that its the last comma before the and or or in a list. A grammar nazi can be classified as a asshat, a douche-face, a turd gnat, or a self-righteous pig-headed prickalicious anal cyst. You had to see it that time.

The funny thing is, within the grammar nerd community, the proper use of this seemingly insignificant punctuation is an active debate. In some other languages, including British English (which you know is a totally different language if you've ever heard them say aluminum), they hardly use it at all. But in American English, we obviously have to fight about it.

"American" in the original British means "Unaware of how dumb they look."

Here's the debate. A lot of people say you don't really need it, and that it shouldn't be the standard. The problem is, there are a lot of situations that become… confusing without it, to say the least. For example: "At the park I saw some dogs, Diane, and Meredith." Is a very nice sentence about the things you saw on your walk. However, lose the oxford comma and: "At the park, I saw some dogs, Diane and Meredith." Is an insult to two ladies who I'm sure aren't half as ugly as you've made them out to be. Jerk.

Alternatively, sometimes it's important to leave the damn thing out. "We beat the other team, my wife and her friends." I think you're already with me on that one.


Nonce Words

This is a conversation you and I have been needing to have for a while. No, I'm not breaking up with you. Don't freak out. We're just gonna talk about Nonce Words.

I use nonce words a lot. They are one of my ultrafavorimost things. The term "nonce" means designed for use on a single occasion. Therefore, nonce words are words that a writer or speaker invents for a specific circumstance, usually to clarify a point or make a joke. Obviously, because you're making them up, they're usually made of litichunks, combining roots with prefixes and suffixes that won't result in what I'm calling for the first time "dicterminogues", or words that you can find in the dictionary. You can understand why the grammar nazis might not be a huge fan.

The difficulty, obviously, is making yourself clear despite using a vernacluless word. You have to subtly paint a picture with things people recognize, on almost a subsocioconsious level. I judge most writers by the clarity of their nonce words. I mean, if you can't make a fake word clear to me, why should I care how you use real ones? That's why my favorite author is still Dr. Seuss.

But what I really love about nonce words is how varietulectible they are. I mean, the English language is epicspansive, but that doesn't mean you'll always have the right word for the right situation. Sometimes, like in medicine, you've got to make shit up on the fly and hope nobody dies. And no matter how many times my spell checker, my editor, or the Englestapo of the world tell me not to, I'm gonna keep on cognitoventing words and never using them again.

And just like that… *fwoosh* they're goffkhin.