Dr. Language Guy Confesses

Dr LG Confesses


Penitent Dr. LG:  Forgive me Father for I have sinned.

Reproachful Priest:  How long has it been since your last confession?


Penitent Dr. LG:  Uh… well… it’s been a while.

Reproachful Priest:  That is okay, my son.  Tell me of your sins.


Penitent Dr. LG:

Oh Father my sins are many.  I have tried to serve as a language maven but I have given misguided directions to my followers.  I have instructed them in better writing and diction but I have fallen victim to doubts and uncertainty.  I am beckoned by the siren calls of language change against which I have asked them to resist.  Not only that, these ideas seem to me quite normal and ones that should be incorporated into modern writing in place of their more stylistic but perhaps dated earlier forms.

Reproachful Priest:  ?


Penitent Dr. LG:  Let me give you some examples of my transgressions.  I speak of the Oxford comma, the placement of quotation marks inside punctuation marks, and the split infinitive.

Reproachful Priest:  ??


Penitent Dr. LG:

I’ll start with the Oxford comma.  As you may know, the Oxford comma (also called the Harvard comma or serial comma) is a comma placed immediately before the coordinating conjunction (usually and, or, or nor) in a series of three or more terms.  For example, we may punctuate three items as “A, B, and C” (with the serial comma) or “A, B and C” (without the serial comma).  Long have I railed against the use of the serial comma as unnecessary.  While the Associated Press Stylebook advises against it, many other style guides like The Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and the U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual advocate its use.  How can I disagree with such an auspicious group?1

1 portions excerpted from Wikipedia

Then there is the placement of punctuation marks outside of quotation marks.  I have been told that “periods and commas always go inside quotation marks, even inside single quotes.”  Yet, fewer and fewer writers do this and I have a hard time explaining why they should.  Isn’t it easier to let the quotation marks set off the quoted or emphasized phrase and then end with the terminating punctuation mark?  Oh I fear these voices.

These same voices tell me that it matters not that I split my infinitives!  Is it any improvement or difference, they say, “to go boldy” than “to boldy go” where no writer has gone before?  The evil voices are winning, Father, they are winning.

Oh and I don’t even want to tell you how I refuse to give up the long-established habit of placing two spaces instead of one between sentences.  I know it’s wasteful of space but I cannot help but believe it gives better readability and I’m here to confess these and many other sins too numerous to mention.

Reproachful Priest:  [After a long pause]  I believe that you are at the wrong confessional, my son.


Penitent Dr. LG:  Well, did I confess to you about how I once thought that Steven Seagal was a good actor?

Reproachful Priest:  I’m listening…

27 thoughts on “Dr. Language Guy Confesses

  1. The tidal flow of politics and current events having inundated me to the point of exhaustion and inspired me to change my direction, I have somehow stumbled upon your confessional here, Curmie. (May I call you that? I feel I already know you, for your sins are so like mine! My name is Jim and I am a serial comma abuser. Hi, Jim!) Oops. Ought that be . . . )! ? Help. Where’s Tom Lehrer when you need him?

  2. *wiping feet*

    I kept thinking how you would enjoy talking to my grammar obsessed mother. I absolutely enjoyed reading your witty remarks. Thanks for making me smile today. 🙂

  3. I believe the upside to getting older, for me, is that I have forgotten many of these rules (if in fact I ever knew them) and I no longer care all that much anyhow – which leaves me happily writing whatever pops into my head, with no concern whatsoever about much of what you seem to understand so well! (I guess that is why most of my blog is just photos and yours is good writing.)

  4. I feel pretty good after reading this. This dyslexic has come a long way.
    I employ the Oxford comma – Check
    I use two spaces between sentences – Check
    I punctuate inside the quotation marks. (It would go against my aesthetic to place them outside.) – Check

    I must confess, though, that I split my infinitives. I must also confess that I had to look up the word, Infinitive. Lol! (Does it sound better to say, “I also must confess?” ) I believe I split them because I am the most awkward of writers. This is why I go back to proof read, and even then, I sometimes miss the opportunity to make things sound better.
    Oh God, are you correcting this comment? 😉

  5. Honestly I’m almost scared to write a comment here. Because of my stumbling English. I feel like a pagan who’s stepping into a temple during a cerimony. It’s a while since I’ve been lurking (and enjoying) this blog, always fighting the temptation to write down something, but today I can’t resist. It’s a pleasure to read you. Indeed.

  6. You rail against the use of the serial comma? That very loud popping noise you just heard was my bubble bursting. Sigh. If you were in the UK, by the way, you would be able to place punctuation outside of quotation marks with abandon, as that’s the standard style there. On the other hand, they also drive on the left.

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