Oxford Commas – I mean, really

The Oxford Comma is a highly debated topic central to all of our lives. Okay, it’s not really that debated, but it is relevant to our lives. While I’m not going to go into all of the details and examples, I am going to say my piece and then ask for your thoughts and reflections – or at least ask you to have thoughts and reflections, because as writers we should be aware of this issue.

So what is an Oxford Comma? you ask. Well, an Oxford Comma is best demonstrated by example:

Me, myself and Irene (this contains no Oxford Comma)

Me, myself, and Irene (this contains an Oxford Comma).

Get it? An Oxford Comma is the optional comma you put before the last item in a list when you are listing things. In English writing, it’s optional. Some people think it should be mandatory and others think it’s silly and never necessary. My friend Kush, when he edits my work, often encourages me to include Oxford Commas because he thinks they add clarity. At first I dismissed his nonsensical ravings as sheer popery, but upon further reflection I realized that the Oxford Comma really can clear up a great deal of ambiguity. Hmm, I thought – I should rethink this.

What I decided was that I would no longer exclude the Oxford Comma for convention’s sake, but evaluate each instance on a case by case basis and decide whether or not it called for an Oxford Comma – if it clarified or not. What I’m saying could be really boring (in fact, it is), but that doesn’t change the fact that the comma (and other punctuation for that matter) is an important tool in the writer’s resources, and this special comma is something that should be thought about and not simply dismissed every time we write lists. Ask yourself if it clarified, but don’t be stuck with an extremist’s view that you should always use it or never. Use it when it helps. That’s the Middle Ground attitude towards Oxford Commas.

Do you use them? Do you support their use? Did you actually read to the end of this post? What’s your favorite sexual position?

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5 Responses

  1. I seem to recall learning to use Oxford Commas, as a rule. While I no longer use them as such, I think they can add clarity, especially when linking other than single words, as in your example. Now, I consider them discretionary.

    I’m pretty sure you don’t want me to answer your last question, other than extremely vaguely, as in “Tab A in Slot B”.

  2. “What’s your favorite sexual position?”

    LOL…I liked the test.

    I’m pro Oxford Comma

  3. You couldn’t be more off-base. The Oxford (or Harvard) Comma basically differentiates US Weekly from Moby Dick, The Catcher in the Rye, and Hambone and Flippy Ascend the Mountain. Not using Oxford Commas is like not responding to a question. Technically, you can make the case that you didn’t hear it, but really, you just seem rude.

    Sam, I’m disappointed that you didn’t answer the final question. I’d have to go with the Ocean’s Thirteen as my favorite, followed closely by a nice Sunday afternoon Hannity and Colmes (I always play Sean. Always.). Oh, and peanut butter seems intuitive for the first, but I usually use cream cheese.

  4. My favorite position is on top of a dictionary.

  5. We are taught, in England, that the Oxford comma is grammatically incorrect- thus reading in America sometimes irritates me.
    I actually didn’t know it was called an Oxford comma. All I knew was:
    ‘No comma before ‘and’ in a list’.
    To take a less dogmatic approach, I still disagree with it, because the ‘and’ at the end of the sentence serves its purpose well.

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