In a recent episode of the addictive cable show, “The Boss,” the star, Kelsey Grammar, demanded an aide remove all the Oxford commas from a speech transcript. The aide diligently accepted, and then investigated just what the heck an Oxford comma is.
I’m sure a great deal of the TV audience did, as well.
(An Oxford comma is a comma inserted at the end of a series before “and,” as in: “We had shrimp, lobster, cod, and scallops during the meal.” Almost all publishers demand the Oxford comma in their style books, but it is optional and the writing is correct with no comma after “cod.”)
This is how you stand out in a crowd, and I’m sure it’s what the writers of “Boss” had in mind. Make people think about what you say. Force them to look things up. Urge them to reassess their normal view.
If you’re in strategy, tell them planning kills strategy and “strategic planning” is an oxymoron. If you’re in organizational development, tell them that team building won’t help committees, and most of what they have outside their office are committees.
You get the idea. Ignore the execrable advice to “dumb down” your language, attire, and demeanor (advice given by people who just can’t compete themselves). Make people think, explore, and debate.
I use the Oxford comma, and I know what it means, and I think the world of the writers for their example, stretching us all.
That’s how you stand out in a crowd, even with something as small as a comma or its absence.
© Alan Weiss 2012. All rights reserved.