The Oxford comma debate

February 17, 2016 Opinion

19104980593_3c3ef4d86f_oThe Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, is the final comma in a list, following the second to last item, and immediately preceding the word ‘and,’ or the word ‘or.’

The complete history of the Oxford comma remains unclear, although a few things are known. We know that the concept and naming occurred at the Oxford University Press; however, the actual creator remains unknown. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term was first used in Peter H. Sutcliffe’s 1978 book, The Oxford University Press: An informal history.

Sutcliffe, however, attributes the Oxford comma to F. H. Collins, who died in 1910. Suffice to say, no one is entirely sure where the idea first originated.

According to many people, nobody cares about the Oxford comma. They are all wrong.

People usually think that the Oxford comma is optional, something that you can either throw in or omit. Those people are also wrong; nothing could be further from the truth.
In reality, it is natural to pause before the conjunction when we are speaking. The syntax of the written sentence should reflect that.

Besides the fact that punctuation should match its spoken counterpart, the Oxford comma helps avoid confusing sentences. Sometimes I look them up in my free time and giggle at how ridiculous some of them can be.

With Oxford comma: My heroes are my parents, Superman, and Wonder Woman.
Without Oxford comma: My heroes are my parents, Superman and Wonder Woman.

When you remove the Oxford comma, the meaning of the sentences changes from the subject having four heroes (both his parents, Superman, and Wonder Woman), to the subject’s parents being Superman and Wonder Woman, and also his heroes.

With Oxford Comma: We invited the hippos, Buddha, and Popeye.
Without Oxford Comma: We invited the hippos, Buddah and Popeye.

We go from inviting hippos, Buddha, and Popeye to inviting two hippos who are also the Buddha and Popeye.

As a writing consultant, it is difficult to comprehend why anyone would not use the comma. And it becomes even more frustrating when I am adding these commas to students’ papers all the time, and nobody cares.

Plus, there are terrible arguments online against the use of the Oxford comma. The best I could find were “commas are ugly, commas are overused, and commas are really just a squiggly line.”
So really, what does it take to just use it?

Like this Article? Share it!

Leave A Response