What Made the Crocodile Cry?, By Susie Dent

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The Independent Culture

In last week's New Yorker, a long article on US pop group Vampire Weekend included a quote from their breakthrough song, "Oxford Comma" though the writer failed to say what this was.

For enlightenment, we can now turn to the latest work by Countdown lexicographer Susie Dent. The Oxford comma is inserted before "and" in a list: "superfluous, pedantic, and fussy".

Dent's lively canter round the more curious corners of English roams from contranyms (words with two contradictory meanings, like sanction meaning both approve and boycott). Discussing meretricious ("alluring by false show"), she mentions Gore Vidal's reply when Richard Adams used the word to describe his work: "Well, meretricious to you and a happy new year."