Oxford comma and quotation marks
March 20, 2019 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Help me win an oxford comma argument!

The usage in question comes from this sentence:

Bonus points if your bio doesn't include the words "taco", "bourbon", or "oxford comma" even though I do enjoy the first two.

Yes, this is from a dating profile of a person my friend matched with and she believes the commas in this instance should be on the inside of the end quotation marks like: "taco," "bourbon," or "oxford comma" et al.

Now, of course I understand that when using a comma after a piece of dialogue it goes inside the quotation marks, but in this particular usage, I'm not so sure. My friend sent me this reference, which does show that she is correct regarding American English (we are American, as is the dude who wrote the profile) but for some reason this just doesn't seem correct to me.

Obviously this isn't an important as it's a lighthearted disagreement between friends, and there are other ways the guy in the profile could express what he's saying, but curious what the hivemind thinks! Thank ya!
posted by greta simone to Writing & Language (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Your friend is correct.

And why doesn't this person like the Oxford comma as much as they like tacos and bourbon??
posted by witchen at 12:35 PM on March 20, 2019 [7 favorites]


This is a style question, not a grammar question - style guides will differ on which is right - you'll note the "most but not all" notes in that answer. There is not an unambiguously correct answer here.
posted by brainmouse at 12:39 PM on March 20, 2019 [10 favorites]


Commas go inside quotation marks, but also those quotation marks are acting as emphasis like italics or bold so that's why it seems like the comma should go outside.
posted by muddgirl at 12:39 PM on March 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this is weird, but that's how it goes. You know what's even weirder? A question mark is supposed to go inside the quotation marks even when the stuff inside the quotation marks isn't a question! I sometimes don't follow this one. But, this is how it's supposed to look:

How am I ever going to win "the big game?"

Also, for what it's worth: the way it's written, with the commas on the outside of the quotation marks, looks WRONG to me. So it's just a matter of what you're used to.

Also, why are you doubting your friend's solid reference resource?
posted by bluedaisy at 12:42 PM on March 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


I've always struggled with the punctuation outside of quotation marks, even though I'm otherwise a strong editor. It just looks wrong to me, like you said bluedaisy! And I'm only doubting my friend's source because I've never heard of it before. I'd rather have a link to an actual widely-used style guide, but my googling was only pointing me to dialogue uses, not list uses. But I will concede! My friend wins--I'm happy to be wrong. Thanks everyone!
posted by greta simone at 12:48 PM on March 20, 2019


Commas go inside quotation marks, but also those quotation marks are acting as emphasis like italics or bold

I agree that commas go inside quotation marks. I disagree that these are acting as emphasis. They're acting as quotation marks. Quotation marks are not for emphasis. In this case particular words are being quoted.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:50 PM on March 20, 2019 [10 favorites]


For U.S. writers, commas go inside quotation marks, unless you happen to work for the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore, LLP, in which case, God have mercy on your soul. U.K. writers will often place the punctuation outside the quotation marks.
posted by praemunire at 12:55 PM on March 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


FWIW, having worked within BE conventions, the comma inside quotation marks looks wrong, wrong, wrong to me. I learned something here today WRT this particular distinction between AE and BE! Capture here (I knew about the use of double vs single quotes, also in that table).

With regard to the use of quotes for emphasis - the OKCupid author uses the quotation marks for the use-mention distinction, similar to this example in Wikipedia:

Use: Cheese is derived from milk.
Mention: 'Cheese' is derived from the Old English word ċēse.

As the OKCupid writer talks about words as words, the quotation marks indicate this distinction.
posted by doggod at 1:02 PM on March 20, 2019 [4 favorites]


As the reference your friend sent indicates, this is a style guide issue, not a right or wrong issue - meaning that your friend is not correct to call it "wrong", because dating profiles are not typically required to follow a particular style guide.

FWIW the style guides I have used in the past (professional writing job, but in Canada) had punctuation always outside of quotation marks and so your friend's version looks very wrong to me.
posted by randomnity at 1:02 PM on March 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


In US English your friend is correct, at least as far as standard style guides go. US style guides continue to advocate for some pretty weird 1950s stuff, so I'm not sure that's something to brag about.

Outside the US, roughly speaking: any punctuation that belongs to the enclosing sentence goes outside the quote. The details differ depending on who you ask, but one set of rules is called logical quotation.

The logical style is redolent of programming syntax, and my impression is it's becoming more popular in the US, especially among computer programmers. If this guy is American, I bet he is a programmer.
posted by caek at 1:04 PM on March 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


UK usage would put the commas outside the quotation marks but would also be more likely to use single quotation marks for this purpose. So points off for inconsistency.
posted by drlith at 1:04 PM on March 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


[p.s., bluedaisy, this is not correct and I don't know any style guide that recommends it]
A question mark is supposed to go inside the quotation marks even when the stuff inside the quotation marks isn't a question! I sometimes don't follow this one. But, this is how it's supposed to look:

How am I ever going to win "the big game?"



From the Purdue Online Writing Lab:
Place a question mark or exclamation point within closing quotation marks if the punctuation applies to the quotation itself. Place the punctuation outside the closing quotation marks if the punctuation applies to the whole sentence.

Phillip asked, "Do you need this book?"
Does Dr. Lim always say to her students, "You must work harder"?
posted by drlith at 1:08 PM on March 20, 2019 [19 favorites]




Ben Yagoda, author of several books on usage and writing, has an entire essay on the subject in Slate. He argues and I agree that it would be better to put the punctuation outside the quotation marks, but that's not (yet) the standard.

If you break a rule, you may be either someone who doesn't understand the rules or someone who has decided to break them. At this point, I think it makes sense to follow the rules so that you are not mistaken for the former, even if you are actually the latter.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:11 PM on March 20, 2019 [3 favorites]


Mea culpa, of course they denote that they are words as words. That makes them redundant since the text already says it's a list of words, but not emphatic.
posted by muddgirl at 1:15 PM on March 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


What's going on there is the words are being used as words, and italics would be appropriate.
posted by emelenjr at 1:24 PM on March 20, 2019 [3 favorites]


Personally, I disagree with the conventions in the popular style guides on this matter. If I had written the text you quoted, I would have put the commas outside of the quotation marks deliberately, unless I was obligated to follow a specific style guide dictating otherwise.

Just because everybody does it, doesn't make it right. Be the change you want to see in the world.
posted by ellenaim at 1:24 PM on March 20, 2019 [4 favorites]


Yes, a comma outside the quotation mark looks strange because of spacing issues but that's what kerning is for. A comma inside the quote implies the word is spelled tacos, like it has some errant accent mark. That's how I figure it.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 1:50 PM on March 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


Academic librarian here.

In the United States, according to most commonly-used style guides, your friend is correct. For the purposes of publication, including self-promotion on a dating site, I'd go with that.

But this is a usage question on which the English-speaking world is unlikely to reach a consensus.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:59 PM on March 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm a software engineer and I always put the punctuation outside of the quotation marks because of sentences like the following:

The default password is "password".

Or, even better:

The default password is "password!".

Putting the punctuation inside the quotation marks is just wrong. Obviously this is a special case, but it's the case I see most often so it carries over into everything else.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:02 PM on March 20, 2019 [4 favorites]


Punctuation goes inside of quotation marks if it's a quotation or dialogue, like:

"Help me," he said, "because I don't know how to code Cobol."

If it's not actual dialogue, then the punctuation should go outside of the quotation marks, or there might not be punctuation:

"Help Me" is the title of my debut album. Other stuff I've made includes "The Night", "Ourobouros", and "Don't Help Me".
posted by amtho at 4:03 PM on March 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


Just because everybody does it, doesn't make it right.

I mean, when it comes to language, it kind of does. Otherwise we're all doing it wrong by not writing our OKCupid profiles in Proto-Indo-European or whatever.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:25 PM on March 20, 2019 [3 favorites]


I know that technically in American English we are supposed to put the punctuation before the closing of the quotation, but I agree with Lurgi above - to my Spock brain it's just illogical.

If I am not quoting that punctuation (such as in this example) there is no sense to having the punctuation before the quotation. The structure of the sentence should be outside of the thing that's quoted, because it exists as an entity within the sentence. Punctuation before Quotation just crosses the streams.

I get inordinately grumpy about this.
posted by aloiv2 at 7:16 PM on March 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm confused. They enjoy the first two, so I assume they don't enjoy the last--the oxford comma--but then they employ the oxford comma?
posted by Pig Tail Orchestra at 6:25 AM on March 21, 2019 [2 favorites]


RTFSG, read the fucking style guide. There probably is no fucking style guide for dating sites, and one is entitled to respond to whatever quasi-religious beliefs one has on the issue.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 7:17 AM on March 21, 2019


PTO, it's because people who mention it in their dating profiles are presumed by that author to be insufferable.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:11 AM on March 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm confused. They enjoy the first two, so I assume they don't enjoy the last--the oxford comma--but then they employ the oxford comma?

I see your point, but he might be a person who considers it proper usage but isn't all fired up about it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:58 AM on March 21, 2019


I see your point, but he might be a person who considers it proper usage but isn't all fired up about it.

Or he sees unsolicited opinions about tacos, bourbon, and serial commas as little more than performative memes, which he's countering with his own unsolicited performance.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 10:49 AM on March 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


Right that's definitely true, but the question was about why he said "although I like the first two" despite clearly not opposing the third one either because he used it in the same sentence.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:54 AM on March 21, 2019


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