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Oh, Commas

As the self-appointed watcher of commas, known to some (OK, known to myself) as The Comma Maven, I naturally was concerned when I saw the provisional title of my friend Craig Pittman’s forthcoming book about the weirdness of Florida. The book grew out of the tweets that Pittman (a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times) has been putting out for some time, like this:

 

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And this:

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(Craig is not connected with the person or persons who send out tweets like the following under the handle @_FloridaMan:

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)

Some months ago Craig took to social media to announce that this manuscript was at the publisher and his book was on its way to a July 2016 release. All good — until, as I say, I saw the title. It was Oh Florida: How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country.

I felt strongly–very strongly–that he needed a comma after the Oh. And I told him so.

Oh Florida without the comma was “O Canada,” “Oh Tannenbaum,” “O Holy Night” — a sort of adulatory apostrophe. What Craig was going for was more the half-fond, half-exasperated sighing expression that I first heard my daughter Elizabeth Yagoda vocalize maybe a half-dozen years ago. You hear it in a variety of places and see it all over the Internet. (Click on the images for bigger versions.)

Now, admittedly, two of these four examples omit the comma. But I believe it’s necessary for an accurate rendition of the vocalization, with its pause and descending musical fourth between the Oh and the noun that follows.

So much for punctuation. That leaves the question of where this formulation came from. Jody Rosen has written at fascinating length about the 1909 Tin Pan Alley song, “I Love, I Love, I Love My Wife—But Oh! You Kid!”; the tune became a monster hit and the last three words  a lasting catchphrase. But that’s yet another slightly different Oh (the word contains multitudes), a winking cousin of “Oh brother!” or “Oh man oh man!”

The only origin story I’ve been able to find on the Internet comes from Know Your Meme, which has an entry for a four-panel graphic, in the last of which a dude says to a dog, “Oh, You.”

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The site dates this meme to 2006. However, the most memorable “Oh, you,” as far as I’m concerned, was broadcast on NBC on the night of March 18, 1993. In the Seinfeld episode “The Junior Mint,” Jerry is chagrined to realize he cannot remember the name of the woman he is dating, and it would be embarrassing to ask her. (You might recall the episode if I tell you that one of his guesses is “Mulva.”) The “Seinology” website has the key moment:

(They embrace and a couple of light kisses and a hug)

WOMAN: Oh, oh Jerry…

JERRY: Oh … *you*…

I put this moment forth as the progenitor of “Oh, you” and subsequently of the all-purpose “Oh, [noun].” I await alternative theories and hypotheses.

And Craig’s book? You can see for yourself whether he took my advice. And while you’re at it, pre-order a copy. What could be bad about a book whose cover features a mustachioed orange in a ball cap smoking a cigarette?

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