The Elements of Oatmeal

E.C. Stratos

"Read this book, or a bear will punch you in the gut."
— Someone Important

"This is just silly. Where’d you say this book came from? No, I don’t know about any Oatmeal. Maybe you should leave now. Seriously, get out of my office."
The New York Times


In 2003, professional web-geek Matthew Inman created a simple website—The Oatmeal. Although originally created to bring joy to the world, it quickly turned into a platform for Matt’s hatred of horses and love of good grammar. Although such comics as “Ten Words You Need To Stop Misspelling,” and “Why We Should Be Eating Horses Instead of Riding Them,” became popular among internerds, Matt did not feel enough people were hearing his message. His frustration mounted and he quickly became a hermit, emerging from his basement only to retrieve monthly coffee deliveries. Matt’s UPS driver was the last person to see him. “His hair had turned bright pink,” the deliveryman said, “and he kept muttering something about Lemurs hating punctuation.” Clearly, The Oatmeal had lost his mind. In a rescue mission in late 2009, authorities scoured his Seattle home for any traces of the cartoonist. No sign of Matt was found, but on his desk laid a petite book. It was apparent that this was what kept him locked away for months—his last desperate attempt to reach the masses in a quest for perfect writing and the abolishment of evil creatures. What follows is The Oatmeal’s final work, in all of its insanity and brilliance.
—E. C. Stratos

Elementary Rules of Usage

2. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.

Serial commas are serious business. Do not be so proud as to assume your writing skills can do without them. The comma is to writing what short breaths are to speaking. (Unless you are bionic, in which case neither comma nor breath will do you good.)

Thus, humans, write,

Pigs are fast, fornicating, and fantastic.

He opened the door, stepped through it, and was mauled by a rabid spider monkey.

7. Use a colon after an independent clause to introduce a list of particulars, an appositive, an amplification, or an illustrative quotation.

A colon is not a section of the digestive system; it is an unfortunately named item of punctuation. What follows the colon is not your last meal, but rather something related closely to the preceding clause. (Note that columned examples show the incorrect form to the left and the correct form to the right.)

Lemurs hate: kittens, punctuation, and America.

Lemurs hate three things: kittens, punctuation, and America.

A colon can also be used for amplification, in place of a megaphone.

The lemur gave an evil chuckle: he had erased all of the apostrophes from my manuscript.

Elementary Principles of Composition

15. Put statements in positive form.

Nobody likes a Negative Nancy, not even Nancy herself. Make definitive assertions that let your reader know exactly what you’re saying. Remember, your reader is probably easily confused, and putting “not” before statements just gives him extra words to mix up. Your reader will be dissatisfied if he has to think too much.

The horse was not friendly.

The horse was an asshole.

Nancy did not like anything about the class, because her tiny brain was not equipped for thinking.

Nancy's tiny brain prevented her from enjoying the class.

I am not a jerk.

I am awesome.

17. Omit needless words.

Vigorous is. A should no words, paragraph unnecessary, for same that drawing have unnecessary and machine unnecessary. This not the make sentences, or all and subjects in, but every tell.

However, take care not to omit too many words, lest your writing become simple nonsense. “Needless” is subjective and, when taken too far, can make you look like an idiot.

A Few Matters of Form

Exclamations. There are only so many exclamation marks in the world (roughly 3,582,034), and it is a careless practice to use them when not necessary.

I hate that stupid lemur!     

I hate that stupid lemur.

Exclamation marks are better reserved for use after true exclamations or commands rather than sprinkling them willy-nilly throughout your writing.

That lemur just crapped on me!

Dance, monkey!

Hyphen. A hyphen is needed when uniting compound adjectives.

He looked up from his desk and noticed a machete-wielding bear standing in the doorway.

Hyphens should be omitted in words that are better written as one, such as “harebrained.” If confusion arises, reliance on a dictionary is preferable to guesswork. The steady evolution of language shows us that words enjoy companionship, or that people simply like to smoosh things together. Either way, many words that were once hyphenated are now combined.

whoop dee doo   



arm pit



Words and Expressions Commonly Misused

Clever. Note that the word means one thing when applied to people, another when applied to horses. A clever horse is a good-natured one, not an ingenious one. Clearly, this definition is an oxymoron and meant only to be used ironically. Horses are neither good-natured nor ingenious. (See Horse.)

Horse. A wicked beast better suited for eating than riding.

-ize. This suffix is not to be used to create new verbs. Bastardize and pulverize are correct uses; to “butterize” your bread simply sounds uneducated.

Lemur. Often mistakenly thought to be a charming animal with cute people-hands, lemurs are, in fact, the bane of any good writer’s existence. If given the opportunity, lemurs will raid your bookshelf and steal your punctuation. Although no one is exactly sure what they use all these semi-colons and full stops for, their motives are clearly sinister.

Nouns used as verbs. One should always be suspicious of nouns masquerading as verbs. Although seemingly innocuous, they very well may steal your lunch money. Instead of “iPadding” your homework simply say that you did not try your best.

Oatmeal. A synonym for “awesome.”

An Approach to Oatmeal

1. Place yourself in the background.

Write in a way that draws a reader’s attention to the sense and substance of the writing. Readers are uninterested in the author of a piece, and may become hostile if confronted too often with your individual personality.

I hate lemurs with the
fiery passion of a thousand suns.   

Lemurs are stupid.

Note that a careful and honest writer does not need to worry about style. Clearly, those of you reading this book are not careful and honest, and should probably not be writing at all. However, if you are so bold as to attempt authorship, always remember to keep yourself out of it, and let your style emerge from the act of writing itself.

7. Do not overstate.

14. Avoid fancy words.

Although you may be tempted to spice up your writing with elaborate synonyms, simple language is often a better use of your ink. Fancy should be left for party hats and coffee creamers and does not generally have a place in prose. Let your ear be your guide in writing, but take note that your ear will not save you in the case of a bear attack. For this you will need a heavier object. There are certainly cases where complex language may be useful, but as in choosing grizzly-battling weapons, pay close attention to how your words will serve you. Never call a bear a teddy unless you’re sure he won’t eat your face.

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