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Comma again?

With thanks to Grammar Girl, I pass along this little graphic that distills to simplicity the ivory tower war that has been raging for decades over that little curlicue that allows us to pause between thoughts and lists, the comma. Specifically we are talking about whether or not it is correct to use what has become known as the Oxford Comma—the one in question under the heading below, after the word "defended." Does it belong, or should it be tossed on the slag heap of discarded and unloved punctuation?

Possibly due to a stint in an English grammar school in the '60's, or to a mother who feigned an English accent whenever she was nervous, I was taught to omit it. I didn't even know until recently there was any debate about it; anyone who tossed the extraneous mark into a sentence was not only wasting a keystroke but possibly inciting to riot in as many as three or four post-graduate composition aeries around the globe. Read on and you will see, as I did, that there are occasions where the little curly devil's presence is appropriate and appreciated.

(Apologies to Billy Tucker for the black eye I gave him in 5th grade. Billy, please pass along a current address and I will remit the $2.00, with interest.)

oxford-comma

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Yo, mistuh, youse got a toga I can borrow?

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When writing historical fiction, what tone will pull the reader into the time period without jarring his or her sensibilities? If we get it down with complete accuracy, it's apt to be unreadable, especially if the time period goes back more than a couple of hundred years. I recently had a review that complained that The Bow of Heaven contained too much bad language and violence. We're talking about Republican Rome. Clearly, the reviewer had never read any Catullus. If anything, the book contains a fraction of the grit one would encounter walking the slums of the Subura. The point is, the reader already had expectations of how the book should 'sound,' and if your version does not match hers, there's not much you can do about it.

At least when it comes to ancient history, it's hard to avoid falling into faux-Shakespearean flowery. Unfortunately, much of our preconceptions about the tone of historical fiction comes from the movies, accents aside. Although it's been over 50 years and I still can't forget the masterful work Tony Curtis did bringing a little bit of Brooklyn to
Spartacus.

Myself, I strive for a cross between Derek Jacobi and Peter O'Toole. (Only partially kidding.)

Any writer of books about ancient Rome is bound to get it wrong. Unless we're writing in Latin and have a burning need to sell in the single digits. Here's my take: if it's a whopping great tale, getting the tone 'right' is less of a concern. Slightly.
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