I never realized how strongly I felt about the capitalization of formal titles until…

Last week at work I had to edit a series of copy for a web page. Our organization follows the Canadian Press style guide so I was horrified to see that my colleague in Communications had put all titles such as “Parks Department” (for the title of a department) or “Access Services” (for the formal name of a program) into lower case.

Seeing examples such as “parks department” or “access services” evoked a violent tirade against the inaccuracy of the style guide, made me want to hurl the computer through the window, but I settled instead for shoving the screen into the recycling bin and dousing it in tea. It is a scientifically tested fact that tea does not ignite.

A similar emotion was evoked up the removal of all my carefully placed Oxford commas, which I love. The Oxford comma is the comma placed right before the final ‘and’ of a list. I.e., “I’d like to thank my parents, Evelyn Hart, and George Balanchine.” I feel it a necessary addition as particularly in long lists, it helps to separate clauses, and out of consistency, I use it on the spectrum of lists. Visually, the Oxford comma provides a visual clue to the reader that reinforces the grammar of the sentence. Without the Oxford comma, ambiguity can reign: “I’d like to thank my parents, Evelyn Hart and George Balanchine.” In the original sentence, the subject of the sentence is thanking her parents, and two other people. In the second sentence, the subject is thanking two people who are her parents. I err on the side of being more formal, and thus being clearer.

I found this example in the write-up for a dancer in Ballet BC, who happened to the daughter of a friend of mine at work; knowing full well the name of her parents, the example drove the point of the Oxford comma home.


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