Oxford Comma

Sound the alarm: The Oxford Comma has met its demise.

Except that’s not really true. Turns out the Public Relations department at Oxford (not the entire University) is advising against the Oxford comma in its latest style sheet – a sensible decision, as it turns out (even though I, for one, love that comma).

First, let’s explain that the Oxford Comma is the last comma before and in a series of three or more. Here’s an example:

We served coffee, tea, and lemonade to our guests.  CORRECT

Oxford University has its own publishing company, and editors are instructed to use that comma.

Journalists, on the other hand, generally don’t use that comma. A newspaper reporter would write the sentence this way:

We served coffee, tea and lemonade to our guests.  CORRECT

Since the Public Relations department issues press releases to newspapers and magazines, it makes sense for them to omit that comma. But some commentators thought the whole University was dropping the comma, and…well, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen so much anguish about a punctuation mark.

Why do I like that comma? I think it clarifies sentences and makes the reader’s job easier. For example, take a look at this partial sentence, and see if you can decide where it might be going:

Suddenly the car, passengers and all

I think you’d expect the sentence to turn out something like this:

Suddenly the car, passengers and all, rolled into a ditch.

But if you put that comma in, you can tell that the sentence is going somewhere else:

Suddenly the car, passengers, and all

Here’s the completed sentence:

Suddenly the car, passengers, and all their luggage rolled into a ditch.

I vote for the Oxford comma.


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