The Oxford comma — the comma some people place right before the word “and” in a list of three or more things — retains its obsessive, tyrannical and overbearing grip on a surprisingly large subset of snobby and vaguely foppish Americans.
Most of the time, the comma controversy is pretty tedious. However, add in some strippers, some angry Texas parents, Joseph Stalin and John F. Kennedy — well, then all the sudden you’ve got some real excitement.
The kerfuffle involving punctuation and strippers occurred this week at Highland Park High School, reports CBS Dallas.
An unidentified teacher at the notably affluent high school showed students in at least one class a pair of related images to demonstrate his belief that using the Oxford comma can prevent dramatically different readings of the same sentence.
One image shows a bad drawing of John F. Kennedy, Joseph Stalin and two strippers. One stripper is wearing tasseled nipple pasties and pink thong underwear. The other striking a pose in fishnet stockings.
“we invited the strippers, jfk, and stalin,” the (improperly capitalized) text above the image reads.
A second image shows a scantily-clad Kennedy wearing the fishnet stockings and Stalin striking a pose in the tasseled nipple pasties and pink thong underwear.
“we invited the strippers, jfk and stalin,” the (still improperly capitalized) text above the second image reads.
Thus, the argument in favor of the Oxford comma goes, that third, serial comma is necessary. Otherwise readers might think that there are two strippers and they are Kennedy and Stalin.
Local parents were outraged — not about the overabundance of commas but about the appearance of the strippers.
“Wow. That’s unbelievable. That is unbelievable,” Highland Park mother Amy Steward told CBS Dallas when she saw the imagery. “I mean, I feel like I shouldn’t be looking at that picture right now.”
A second veritable parent on the street, Marcel Solman, agreed.
“I don’t understand why a teacher would use that,” Solman told the CBS station. “To me that’s not really teaching them anything.”
The parents who actually complained about the stripper (and Stalin, and Kennedy) images remain anonymous.
It’s not clear if school officials intervened, but the teacher admitted that he alone chose to show students the drawing. He also apologized.
“The teacher deeply regrets the incident and apologized to students in his classes earlier today,” Highland Park school district spokesman Jon Dahlander said in a statement obtained by CBS Dallas.
Last year, FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver’s website for people with an unhealthy passion for statistics, conducted a survey about the Oxford comma. The results showed that 57 percent of respondents prefer the Oxford comma. (RELATED: Fancypants Grammar Snobs Love, Revere And Insist On Oxford Comma)
FiveThirtyEight observed that the people who participated in the poll who regard themselves as awesome grammar experts were substantially more likely to be in the group which prefers the Oxford comma.
Of the 57 percent of respondents who prefer the Oxford comma, 63 percent of them rate their own grammatical skills as “excellent.” Meanwhile, just 37 percent of the people who are fine without the extra common rate their own grammar as “excellent.”