Well, Who Cares About the Oxford Comma?


My sister Cate said this story explains why she left journalism. It also mentions the Oxford Comma.

My sister Cate said this story explains why she left journalism. It also mentions the Oxford Comma.

My title is a poor, and cleaner, paraphrase of a Vampire Weekend song that’s resonant now due to a current grammatical battle over the Oxford comma. A clean version of the song was posted on Facebook by my oldest daughter. But I won’t spare your tender ears because the song is better in its original, so that’s what I will show at the end. Be forewarned because there may be an “f” word, and it’s neither “forewarned” nor “fudge.” (The recent comma before “and” is not an Oxford comma because “and” is joining clauses in this case, not items in a series, but all of my students knew that already, right?)

I’ve noticed some movement among editors I respect who are calling for use of the Oxford comma. By definition, the Oxford comma is a comma before the conjunction in a simple series of three or more items.

For example:

  • Brian, Stephanie and Michelle don’t give a fruitcake about an Oxford comma (without).
  • Brian, Stephanie, and Michelle don’t give a fruitcake about an Oxford comma (with).

In the U.S.A., Journalists are trained in Associated Press style, and the AP abhors the Oxford comma. But the AP is receding in importance in the universe of information—my local daily newspaper doesn’t even belong anymore—so maybe their rules against that final little tadpole in a series will recede into the dustbin of history (located next to the recycling container of great literature).

Screenshot of Tweet that I downloaded from Slate.

Screenshot of Tweet that I downloaded from Slate.

The Oxford comma also got a bit of a news boost from a recent Sky News Twitter summary that was repeated on Slate: “Top stories: World leaders at Mandela tribute, Obama-Castro handshake and same-sex marriage date set …”

Whoops. A comma conundrum! Certainly that tweet would be more sweet with an extra comma—although an old curmudgeon editor might say re-ordering the series would also fix it.

And I’ve been thinking about the comma because of a funny story from the Onion that my sister Cate put on Facebook. It reports gang violence between rival copy editors, with the Oxford comma being one of the issues that divides rival editing groups.

If I were king of the world—that would be bad because my granddaughter Amelia is already likely to someday dominate the world and she doesn’t need to be on the fast track—I would mandate use of the Oxford comma. But, I’m not king. And AP still says no. If you’re my student and you put that comma in, you’ll get it marked wrong.

And here’s a song with lyrics that I warned you about:

Advertisements

Comments Off on Well, Who Cares About the Oxford Comma?

Filed under Uncategorized

Comments are closed.