At the Statehouse this year, there is a battle brewing. A battle that involves deeply and sincerely held beliefs. A battle that could very well determine the economic and social future of Indiana.
A battle that all comes down to four words and a comma.
Or, if you prefer, four words and two commas.
We’re talking, of course, about the use of the Oxford comma. What were you talking about?
The Oxford comma, or serial comma, is that last comma that comes before the final item in a list of three or more. To use it or not to use it is the preeminent grammar debate of our day. Supporters of the Oxford comma say that it’s traditional and prevents ambiguity. Consider the sentence:
I went to the Statehouse today and saw a same-sex couple, Mike Pence and John Gregg.
Are Mike Pence and John Gregg a couple? I didn’t think they were, but since you’ve left out a punctuation mark, how are we to be sure?
Opponents of the Oxford comma say it’s a redundant piece of punctuation, a needless waste of space. By the way, it can cause some confusion of it’s own.
You know who we haven’t heard from in awhile: Phil Hinkle’s Craigslist lover, Mark Souder, and Herman Cain.
The addition of the Oxford comma could make one think that Mark Souder was Phil Hinkle’s Craigslist lover. He was not. I don’t think. Everything that happened before the 2012 election runs together.
The reason I’m bringing the Oxford comma up this year is that there’s another debate happening right now in Indiana about civil rights and religious freedoms. In Indiana — and 26 other states (26!) — you can still be fired for being gay. So supporters of the LGBT community say that sexual orientation and gender identity need to be added to the state civil rights statute.
The solution, they say, is “four words and a comma”.
This slogan is pithy, memorable, and completely and utterly anti-Oxford comma.
You see, the statute currently says Indiana aims to.
eliminate segregation or separation based solely on race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, or ancestry
eliminate segregation or separation based solely on race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or ancestry
No wonder conservatives are up in arms! You might as well start ending every sentence in the Indiana Code with an exclamation point! Or split inifinitives in the Preamble.
We the people of the United States, in order to more perfectly form a union!
Damn it, Freedom Indiana! Have you no regard for our traditional values?
Governor Mike Pence, for his part, has not been helpful to the situation. In his State of the State speech this week, he sent mixed messages on the issue. Look at his prepared remarks.
…I believe that no one should be harassed or mistreated because of who they are, who they love, or what they believe…
Whether you worship in a church, synagogue, temple or mosque…
Which is it, Mike?! Comma-or, or no-comma-or? You can’t have it both ways. Now is the time to lead!
Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg is no better. He released a statement after the State of the State address. It said something like, “blah, blah, blah, vote for me”, but THEN he got to the point in his boilerplate.
A native of Sandborn, John Gregg has worked throughout the public and private sector. He served as President of Vincennes University, Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives, worked for two Fortune 500 companies and is a practicing attorney.
So at least we know: John Gregg is squarely in the no Oxford comma camp now, but sources tell me that all the bills he voted for while in the House DID have the Oxford comma. He has clearly changed his mind for political purposes.
Our great state has survived 200 years. It is a state built on compromise. Well, that and Miami Indian property. And if we are to survive another 200, we must compromise yet again.
Like, with a semi-colon or something.