Monday, February 17, 2014

The Oxford Comma

I’m throwing down the gauntlet. I am in favor of the Oxford comma, and I defy those who think otherwise. What is this divisive comma? Glad you asked. 

Tom, Dick, and Harry

The Oxford comma goes before the conjunction towards the end of a list. In the above example, the comma occurs after Dick. Without that comma, the list is Tom, Dick and Harry.

(We Americans tend to call it the serial comma, which sounds so pedestrian in comparison.)

The Oxford comma has gone in and out of style. But style is a matter for ties, not punctuation. When I grew up, we were drilled on using that final comma, and we would be marked down for not using it.

Things changed. A writing professor in college told us we did not need that final comma. She said the word “and” separated the last two items, so what did we need the comma for? She asked that of the class defiantly.

I think it obvious the word “and” connects the two items together—after all, that is the job of that particular conjunction.

Things changed again while I was an adult. A seminar teacher told us of the legal case of Tom, Dick and Harry.

 Tom, Dick and Harry
A reason to sue

A man specified in his will that his estate should be divided equally among Tom, Dick and Harry. This was taken to mean each would get a third. Tom sued, saying it meant he should get 50%, and the other two would get 50%. Tom won.


Conjunctions do whatever they are supposed to, but commas separate. Period.

So I hope everyone out there is in favor of the Oxford comma. If not, bring an argument.


Connie Keller said...

I love Oxford commas too. But I've never heard of that legal case. Fascinating!

Pk Hrezo said...

Mark, I totally agree! I hate when that comma isn't used cuz it def groups the later two together. I still use it, but I've accepted not everyone does. :(

Alice said...

I like and use the Oxford comma, too.

Mark Murata said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I'm a diehard proponent of the Oxford comma. Even in rushed academic emails-- i.e. 97% of the writing I do these days-- I use that comma to ensure clarity and to avoid the Tom-Dick-Harry confusion described in your post.


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