Day 13: The Oxford Comma

Day 13: The Oxford Comma

I’m not a grammar pedant. I won’t shame people for misusing apostrophes or misspelling words.

But I will fight anyone who tries to claim the Oxford Comma is unnecessary.

It’s elegant. It’s beautiful. And mostly, it’s clear.

Writing should be, above all, clear.

The Oxford Comma is the final comma in a list of items, like this: I love emus, TinySheep, and cats.

Yes, you could omit the final comma there and not really change the meaning, but let’s look at where it is important.

“I waved to my TinySheep, Noodle and Whiskey.”

This implies that my TinySheep are called Noodle and Whiskey, but they’re not. Add the Oxford Comma and that becomes clear:

“I waved to my TinySheep, Noodle, and Whiskey.”

And the classic example:

“I love my parents, Madonna and Elton John.”

Um okay, your parents are not Madonna and Elton John.

You can add an Oxford comma to make it clear, or you can rewrite it thusly:

“I love Madonna, Elton John and my parents.”

But that is still ugly.

Look at this quote from The Times newspaper, whose style manual omits the Oxford Comma and makes it look stupid:

“…highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.”

I’m pretty sure Nelson Mandela wasn’t 800 years old and I can’t say for sure, but I bet he didn’t collect dildos. No judgement if he did, mind.

Don’t misunderstand me here: I love the way language changes, and I embrace change. But never at the expense of clarity.

Sometimes the Oxford Comma is a stylistic preference only; sometimes it’s the difference between being vegetarian and being a cannibal.

What do you think of the Oxford Comma? Set a timer and write about it.

Happy writing!



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