The Oxford comma in lyrics

From a January 4 New Yorker piece (abstract here) by Lizzie Widdicombe about the New York band Vampire Weekend, which has a devoted following and also many detractors (“Their aggressive preppiness rubs people the wrong way”, one fan observed):

In the comments sections of music blogs, Vampire Weekend is often cast as a band of rich kids, avatars of bourgeois lameness. For instance: “This is what people who host home decorating shows listen to on the drive to work”; “It’s like the Whiffenpoofs started a ska band.”

The band members say they are surprised to be accused of being so calculating. [Rostam] Batmanglij, the band’s keyboardist and producer, justified their lyrics with the write-what-you-know defense. “I remember when Ezra [Koenig] first played me this song he’d written with the lyrics ‘Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?.’ ” he said. “He had just discovered this Facebook group called Society for the Preservation of the Oxford Comma.”

About their music, Widdicombe writes that it’s

the opposite of what the name suggests: it’s a cheery fusion of British New Wave and West African guitar pop.

“Oxford Comma” is on their 2008 album Vampire Weekend, along with “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”, “Mansard Roof”, “I Stand Corrected”, and others. “Oxford Comma” begins (in the version on their website):

Who gives a fuck about an oxford comma?
I’ve seen those english dramas too
They’re cruel
So if there’s any other way
To spell the word
It’s fine with me, with me

Why would you speak to me that way
Especially when I always said that I
Haven’t got the words for you
All your diction dripping with disdain
Through the pain
I always tell the truth

Who gives a fuck about an oxford comma?
I climbed to dharamsala too, I did
I met the highest lama
His accent sounded fine
To me, to me

When the album came out, Michael Hogan did a piece in Vanity Fair about the Oxford comma — consulting with lexicographer Grant Barrett, Vanity Fair‘s copy chief Peter Devine, and Vanity Fair writer David Rose (all of whom expressed some concern for the Oxford comma), and then with Ezra Koenig:

“I have a complicated relationship with grammar,” he admits, adding that he “spent a year teaching eighth-grade English in Brooklyn and, when you spend so much time trying to get kids to write in ‘Standard American English,’ you’re bound to start questioning the importance.”

adding that “I think the song is more about not giving a fuck than about Oxford commas.”

4 Responses to “The Oxford comma in lyrics”

  1. Two things to play with « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] terms, not the phenomena those terms refer to. So: “Oxford Comma” by Vampire Weekend (here) and “Metaphor” from The […]

  2. Pop music « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Cee Lo Green (here and here) and Vampire Weekend (here). We’re up to date here on […]

  3. Edward I as Oliver Cromwell « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] 1/1/10: The Oxford comma in lyrics (link) [about Vampire Weekend’s song “Oxford Comma”] When the album came out, Michael Hogan did a […]

  4. More taboo avoidance in the NYT « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] posted about Vampire Weekend here; “Oxford Comma” begins “Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?” (The song is more about […]

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