Vampires of Boston


I recognize that this is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but this Launchsquad post is the worst, at least in how it deals with Oxford commas. I like the Oxford comma, but this post is not going to be a defense of it. Instead, let’s look at the stylistic and logical problems with this post.

The second sentence of this article starts with “[w]e believe that proper use of the serial comma will make your story sound clear, smart and professional….” Great. Why do you believe that? Unless you have a reason, this an argument by assertion. Compare that with:



The second one is better, because it provides a reason why using the Oxford comma promotes clarity. And not to pile on, but they are not “using” the serial comma.
Next, this article switches terms for the same thing. In sentence two, it’s a “serial comma,” while in the quote below, it’s an “Oxford comma.” That would be bad enough, but the quote has another problem.   It claims that in America, we shouldn’t use it because it’s foreign. That’s essentially the genetic fallacy, and not even a sensible version of it;  as the author of this piece knows, it’s also called a serial comma. And you’d think that editors based in Boston would know that it can also be called a “Harvard comma.”

Even worse, the only other argument is an appeal to authority (“according to the AP Style.”) Who cares? Unless you are told to use the AP Style guide for everything, you can use other style guides (there are other style guides that prefer the Oxford comma,) and which might be better systems for your work.  Or, even better, choose the rule you prefer, or finally, and best, have a valid argument as to why using the serial comma is preferable.


Where the Feral Things Are



Two words that are often used as synonyms, “feral” and “wild.” I
learned recently that they
are not quite the same
. A “wild” animal is an animal that has not
itself been domesticated (or is not descended from formerly domestic
animals). A “feral” animal is one that was (or had ancestors were)
domesticated and have since returned to the wild. I have no idea what
the standard is for ancestors, or how to deal with animals that are
crosses between feral and wild animals.

Thus the Rolling Stones were likely
, as the only true wild horses in the world are tahki.


A Shirt is a Shoit*


It’s obviously not some earth-shattering or novel idea that words shift in meaning or usage over time, but this one has always seemed a bit odd to me: people use the term “button down” to refer to any men’s shirt with buttons. But traditionally, “button down” refers to the collar. A shirt with buttons on it is a “button up.” Or, you know, a “shirt.” As opposed to something like a “t-shirt.” This is bit similar to the phrase “gin martini” which I would like to believe is redundant, but might not be anymore.

Here’s someone who cares about this more than me.

*“I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit.” -Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest.

Holiday Portmanteau: Thanksgiving


I’m assuming that everyone who reads this knows what a “portmanteau” is (if not, it’s a word created by jamming two other words together, as in “spork” or “turducken” or “Oxbridge“). I didn’t know that Lewis Carroll is credited as the first writer to use it this way until this morning.

While you can expect more of these here, for today I’ll just point out that “Thanksgiving” is itself a portmanteau. I guess “Christmas” is too, now that I think about it.