Oxford Comma Fans Unite!

http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Oxford-Comma/48254769340
http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Oxford-Comma/48254769340

Christening

Some say the Oxford Comma got its name because editors at the Oxford Press were the first to show a preference for it. Others say it came from the people who first used it, who were often characterized by their wearing of Oxford cloth shirts and Oxford shoes.

“Anyone who does not use the Oxford comma is a fool, a brigand, or a communist.” (A rather blunt public statement made recently by a fan of the Oxford comma.)

You may not have heard of the Oxford comma before, but you will hear of it now. I fully expect you to be delighted. The Oxford comma's avid supporters are becoming vocal, violent, and even vicious over the basic human rights of their beloved comma.

A regular comma in a sentence is the tap of the baton during a concert, a picture frame against a plain wall, or eyebrows on a face. Though words give meaning to a sentence, commas show the relation of those words to each other and categorize ideas in true scientific rank. However, one breed of comma has emerged out of the lowly wastebasket of unwanted grammar idioms and nobly carried on the duties of its punctuated forbears: the "Oxford comma” or “serial comma.” Known for its particularly commandeering leadership when trouble and confusion arises, the Oxford comma barks out orders and puts the newbies in their place.

“You! Over there!”

After another survey of the ranks: “You two! None of that fraternizing-- separate immediately.”

Not realizing the streamlined efficiency that comes with hiring the Oxford comma as a drill sergeant, American sentences have suffered confusion and mediocrity over the years, rather than be counted among the creamy old English armies across the pond.

What Is the Oxford Comma?

It’s about time you asked. America, meet Oxford.

The Oxford comma (also known as the serial comma) is the comma that comes before the “and” that is between the last two items in a list of three or more. The best way to show it is by example. No Oxford comma:

Johnny, Billy, Timmy and Sammy...

With Oxford comma:

Johnny, Billy, Timmy, and Sammy...

Without the Oxford comma, we wonder if the last two items of the list come as a pair. Let’s see. We have Johnny? “Here!” And Billy? “Present!” What about Timmy and Sammy? Um.... yes. I see you are both here. Two by two, like animals on the ark, Timmy and Sammy will be inseparably, though perhaps unintentionally, paired.

Though the meaning of the example above is perhaps clear enough because of many traditionalist, superstitious, anti-oxford-comma advocates across the world, lawyers and attorneys agree that many legal disputes would be easily cleared if the Oxford comma were more widely used.

One Oxford comma defendant declared, “I heard of a case in which a will left the estate to be divided by John, Mary and Robert. The estate was divided into two parts, one of which was split between Mary and Robert. Viva il comma!”

http://www.facebook.com/theoxfordcomma
http://www.facebook.com/theoxfordcomma

The Oxford Comma and the Vampire Weekend

Recently Vampire Weekend produced a pop rock song called "Oxford Comma," protesting in a light and carefree way against stuffy grammarians and english professors, "all your diction dripping with disdain." The meaning behind the lyrics seems to be to get academic snobs to stop disdaining their butlers. Crude and distasteful language comes up right away, with our dear Oxford Comma being sadly harangued. The band, in white suits and seventies-style hairdos, strolls through a green field full of little people playing war, and rides off over a fairy-tale-ish horizon in an old white cadillac, with a gaggle of fifties-diner girls running in its wake. The guitar and vocals are nicely done, the tune is catchy, the lead singer sharply dressed. I wish I could say the same for his grammar.

Are you purposely trying to be confusing?

The confusion really sets in when several lists of pairs are grouped with no Oxford comma to separate bone from marrow. For example:

Mr. and Mrs. Claus, Jack and Jill, Batman and Robin and Romeo and Juliet...

With an Oxford comma nicely situated between “Batman and Robin” and “and Romeo and Juliet,” we would have no confusion about how many items in the list there are and what composes those items. See?

Mr. and Mrs. Claus, Jack and Jill, Batman and Robin, and Romeo and Juliet.

Much better.

Not only can we completely confuse our comic book characters and our Shakespearian couples, but we can verge on heresy, as this famous example illustrates:

“Dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

What will we have to do to ensure that the Oxford comma, so obviously indispensable, gains a permanent place in the hearts (and grammar books) of American editors?

For starters, we writers must be willing to break a bad habit and step out of our comfort zones by tipping our hats to the British and acknowledging the superiority of the Oxford comma. Next? We must actually use the Oxford comma.

Confessions of a Grammar Addict:

Even though I have been a passionate activist for the Oxford comma since before I knew its name, my fingers have joined a worker’s union and petitioned to leave the Oxford comma out of their assembly line. I have had some serious management issues to overcome, and every time a cluster of three or more items is produced, I have to force my workers to go back over their work a second time and add an Oxford comma before the “and” at the end. My fingers always comply the second time around, but my goal is to so familiarize them to the use of the Oxford comma that they put it in its necessary place without having to go back over their work a second time.

According to the facebook fan page for the Oxford comma, this magnificent piece of ink

1) reduces ambiguity,

2) echoes spoken cadence, and

3) maintains consistency with the rules for semicolon usage.

"The Oxford comma breathed new life into our marriage."

Other avid, eloquent, and illustrious supporters of the Oxford comma have publicly declared:

“This is my favorite punctuation mark of all time! Even the stylish and useful semi-colon doesn't measure up to the beauty of an Oxford comma.”

“I have always used the Oxford comma, despite being frequently marked down for it. One instructor had a talk with me about it during which I explicitly refused to stop. I made my case to her, politely but unwaveringly disagreeing with the AP and her own opinion. She stopped marking me down for it, but still circled every single one.”

“[John Doe] agrees with the use of the oxford comma. Society is that much closer to anarchy without it.”

“I am in love with the Oxford comma. If it were socially acceptable, I would marry it. I worked briefly as a proofreader and am a grammar buff, so this is something I have always felt strongly about and have fought for, often in near-physical fights.

“Long live the comma! May it long continue to add clarity, cadence, and cauliflowers.”

© 2010 Jane Grey

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What has the Oxford comma done for you? 47 comments

"Quill" 6 years ago

Look at me first again. An honour as always to be here first. Now what to say about this great hub.

Thank you as always for the informative and interesting words you have graced us with.

Blessings


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Thanks for visiting, Quill! I know your writing is a blessing to many, and I am always grateful for your encouraging words.

Jane


Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan

I have long been enslaved to the Oxford comma. My subconscious screams into my conscience everytime I notice it is missing. Thank you for loosening the bonds and making me a willing captive. I needed that.

Lovely, lovely, and lovely hub! Very amusing, informative, and clever!


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

I love the way you worded that psychological grammar irritation. That's exactly what happens to me as well! Now we shall be marching together in this great and lofty cause. Thank you for showing your support for the Oxford comma!


E. Nicolson profile image

E. Nicolson 6 years ago

I remember this being a great debate from year to year in university. It seemed one year it was acceptable, and the next year not. I became somewhat wishy-washy in my usage, but no more! Thanks to your informative article I shall remain firm in my application of the Oxford comma.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands

Very interesting!

I think that there are occasions when clarity demands the Oxford comma, but I am not usually in favour of it. Perhaps this is just because of the way that I was taught. :)


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

E. Nicolson, may you always remain firm to the end! The more I write, the more I realize it is one bit of punctuation I must have. :)


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Trish,

It is always hard to go against what one has been taught, and I honor you for it. :) I agree with you in the sense that there are also (possibly) a few situations in which the Oxford comma would not help with clarity: primarily during comma wars when no one can figure out what are phrases and what are items in a list. That is a rare occasion, though, and I think I'll stand by my comma! :)

Cheers,

Jane


ateenyi profile image

ateenyi 6 years ago from Chicago

Great Hub!!!!!!

The excellent hub which is presented in superb fashion. It provides tremendous joy and enjoyment while going through your hub. I love the way you meticulously formatted the text and represented it. Thanks a lot for sharing.

Keep on Hubbing


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Thank you, ateenyl. That is fair praise indeed! I always hope to provide some enjoyment for my readers, and it's good to know you were entertained. I had a lot of fun researching my fellow comma geeks. Thanks for leaving your kind comment!

Jane


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 6 years ago from United States

This hub kept me laughing like few other things have! I am sure I am guilty of transgressing against the Oxford Comma, but shall cease immediately. :-D


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

JoyAtHome, you are a joy! Your comment made me laugh too. I love contagious humor!

May the grammar fanatics forgive you for your transgression, and may your years in purgrammatory be short.


itakins profile image

itakins 6 years ago from Irl

Oh, I do hope I have remembered all my Oxford commas:mental note to self ,I must try harder.


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

I hope so too, itakins! Maybe joining a support group would help? :D


Sterling Sage profile image

Sterling Sage 6 years ago from California

Comma gain?

(sorry, sorry...)


Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 6 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Good Hub - I always use Oxford commas as a way to keep things much tidier.

Thank you for your support for this misunderstood member of the punctuation community :D


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Sterling Sage,

Please do come again! :)


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Tidiness is definitely the greatest virtue of our comma friend. Thank you for showing your allegiance as well, Sufidreamer!


Callie 6 years ago

Ha! This made me laugh. And I did join the group on Facebook. *smile*


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Way to go Callie! I was laughing reading all the activist comma supporters on facebook. It's becoming quite an issue. Who knows, maybe we'll even go political with this! "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."


rmcrayne profile image

rmcrayne 6 years ago from San Antonio Texas

I got hammered for my "overuse of commas" in graduate school. Also my local Air Force leadership was not a fan of the Oxford comma. My "overuse" is related to #2 above, "echoes spoken cadence". Commas help elucidate the intent of writing. You may have convinced me to fly in the face of American comma convention!


Uninvited Writer profile image

Uninvited Writer 6 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

I'm a fan of the Oxford comma.


RedElf profile image

RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

Thanks so much! My experience was similar to that of Uninvited Writer. I was once accused of being a comma Nazi. After I was told it made my writing look old-fashioned and stuffy, I finally succumbed to the "American Way". No more!

Seriously - great hub! Glad to finally meet you.


Hub Llama profile image

Hub Llama 6 years ago from Denver, CO

It's the difference between what looks good (typography) and what is the most accurate. It wasn't that long ago where too many commas actually made text less readable, mostly because they hung down into the tops of the "taller" letters. Less commas = more readable. Until you get the AP Stylebook to change it, it's futile.


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Rmcrayne,

May your years of martyrdom in the Air Force reward you! You should go down in the Oxford Comma hall of fame of avid, persecuted, and die-hard supporters. I hope you will never again experience discrimination for using punctuation in accordance with spoken cadence.

Peace out!

Jane


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Thanks for marking your support on my page, Uninvited Writer! I hereby invite you to write with the power and beauty of the Oxford Comma at your fingertips.


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

RedElf,

A comma Nazi!? Oh my. :) As far as being old-fashioned and stuffy, I would far prefer that accusation than to be accused of being "modern" or "casual." Old-fashioned writing, as well as British writing, has a style and exquisiteness that can't be matched by today's writers-- but I am encouraged that you are determined to try! Glad to meet you as well-- I loved your comment.

Jane


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Wow, Hub Llama, you brought up a whole new area of controversy. The visual effect in typography is something I had not considered. I don't seem to see commas hanging down and interfering with tall letters on the following lines anymore; do you think that style has disappeared? I agree that too many commas can clutter a perfectly clean sentence, but the Oxford comma rarely has any place in "clean" sentences. Rather it makes messy sentences more organized.

How hard and fast is the AP stylebook for editors of major newspapers and publishing companies? From my experience and research, it seems like many editors have the choice of taking or leaving the Oxford comma.

Great discussion, Hub Llama! You really brought up an interesting topic. Thanks for stopping by and enlightening me!

Jane


ateenyi profile image

ateenyi 6 years ago from Chicago

Excellent Hub!!!!!!!

The hub which is explicitly dedicated towards visual effect in topography. This is something new and innovative. Their appear the emergence of new style. Thanks for sharing so fruitful information. I await your future hub with great curiosity.

Keep on Hubbing


askjanbrass profile image

askjanbrass 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

What an aptly titled hub! I have to say, I very much agree. In fact, I consider myself a strong, avid, and unyielding supporter of the Oxford comma. (Note the purposeful use of the Oxford comma in the preceding sentence.)

Thanks for sharing this. It was quite enjoyable!


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Ateenyi,

Your complements are effusive and undeserved, but I'm never one to turn down a kind word! I just noticed this is your second time to visit and comment on this article, so I thank you for being a return visitor!

I had to look up "topography", even though I know what it means, because I have never heard of it being used to describe the "landscape" of comma and grammar. Your creativity in your comments is a pleasure to read, and it is a joy to write for readers like you.

Jane


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Thank you for your fun comment, Askjanbrass! And yes, I was aware that you used the Oxford comma in beautiful symmetry and perfect harmony --before you even pointed it out to me. Thank you for your brave and patriotic words in defense of our beloved OC.

jane


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 6 years ago from Southeast Michigan

Amen! I've been arguing in favor of the Oxford comma for many years. It's gratifying to find another proponent.


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Good for you, Jeff! I am finding that there are many supporters of the Oxford comma out there, but it is still rarely used in professional publications. I wonder what is next for getting the Oxford Comma more widely used! Thanks for your comment,

Jane


EnglishM 6 years ago

I'm more interested in knowing what a 'creamy' old English army is, Jane?


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Good question, EnglishM! I probably shouldn't try inside jokes that not everyone has heard of, but I'm using "creamy" in the sense that Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie do in one of their comedies. Here it is! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znmjnEMqHeg&feature...

I think Fry and Laurie think the word "creamy" is essential to England, the English, and all that is authentically British!


EnglishM 6 years ago

Of course, I'd forgotten about them and didn't make the connection. Thankfully they went on to become even more creamier (quintessentially English) with Rowan Atkinson and the wonderful Black Adder series.


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

I'm not familiar with Rowan Atkinson and the Black Adder series. Is it good? It must be if it's creamy!


EnglishM 6 years ago

You will absolutely love them! There are three series. One is set in the medieval period, one in the georgian period, and one during the first world war. I think the whole of England would say that it's Atkinson, Fry and Laurie at their best.


EnglishM 6 years ago

Someone's just reminded me that there was another series (series 3) set in the Elizabethan era, which I forgot about.


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Sounds fun, EnglishM! Thanks for the recommendation.


cibyrd 6 years ago

I have been bewildered at the drop in this particular comma in contemporary writing and have debated it with my school secretary. What a delight to find out I'm not alone, and that there is even a name for this comma! Thanks for the informative (and entertaining) article!


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

CIByrd, that's wonderful! So glad to have such a, enthusiastic, bold, and courageous debater as you on our side!


SJmorningsun25 5 years ago

Thank you for your eloquent, witty, and firm defense of the Oxford comma! My favorite lines: "Not realizing the streamlined efficiency that comes with hiring the Oxford comma as a drill sergeant, American sentences have suffered confusion and mediocrity over the years, rather than be counted among the creamy old English armies across the pond." Poetry. Thank your for this excellent Hub!


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 5 years ago from Oregon Author

Why thank you, SJ! I remember noticing on your profile that you are an editor. Have you ever had any interesting "arguments" with your writers over this comma?


SJmorningsun25 5 years ago

Thankfully, no, since I don't directly interface with them--but my company's "house" style includes the Oxford comma, so I always get to put it in where it should be. Whew!


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 5 years ago from Oregon Author

Nice! Good for them.

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