The Oxford Comma is About Tradition-Embrace It
Without grammar, all chaos would break loose. Grammar is the tool to make sense of the messages in the language we read. The Oxford comma has been considered “optional” for a long time, even though it’s been around for centuries.
The Oxford comma was considered an optional use of punctuation when I grew up. Still, I embraced it because I’ll take advantage of any tool that makes communicating with others less ambiguous. We have a tool to clarify things that people want to eliminate. I think not. It’s also a tradition. Everyone seems to want new these days, but I would argue that traditional things stand the test of time for a reason, they’re better.
The Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, is the comma used before the conjunction (usually “and” or “or”) in a list of three or more items.
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For example: “I went to the store to buy milk, bread, and cheese.”
Some say the separateness of categories which the comma differentiates, is implied. Why guess? That Oxford comma has been around for centuries; no need to be lazy about this tradition. Ice cream comes in hundreds of flavors, but the all-time best seller is still vanilla.
Using the Oxford comma is a matter of style and can vary depending on the writer, editor, or style guide followed.
Here are some pros and cons of using the Oxford comma:
- Clarity: The Oxford comma can help avoid ambiguity and confusion in a sentence. The Oxford comma makes it clear whether the last two items in a list are separate items or part of a single item. For example: “I would like to thank my parents, Oprah Winfrey and God” could be interpreted as the speaker’s parents being Oprah Winfrey and God rather than thanking three separate entities. We can all agree that God deserves the respect of being classified as his own entity.
- Consistency: Using the Oxford comma can create consistency in a document, especially if there are multiple lists throughout the document.
- Tradition: Many style guides, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, recommend using the Oxford comma.
- Style: Some writers prefer the cleaner look of omitting the Oxford comma and believe it creates a more streamlined, modern look. Remember that modern is a trend of the moment, and tradition is forever.
- Space: In some cases, such as in news headlines or advertising copy, the area is at a premium, and omitting the Oxford comma can save space. A space-saving comma? I beg to differ.
- Ambiguity: In some cases, using the Oxford comma can create ambiguity or confusion, especially if the items in the list are already complex or contain multiple phrases. I’m afraid I have to disagree. Could you come up with separate sentences if the phrases are that long?
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The “Oxford Comma” must still be significant given that a song called “Who gives a f*** about an Oxford comma?” was released by the American indie rock band Vampire Weekend on their 2008 debut album, “Vampire Weekend.”
Ultimately, whether to use the Oxford comma or not is a matter of personal preference and style, but you do have to pick a side on this one. You can’t use it sometimes and not in others, mainly if it’s within the same document.
Some people try a new chicken salad sandwich with raisins and nuts because it’s new, different, and trendy. Others know that even if they like the twist on the modern sandwich, it won’t be as good as the tried and true original. Ultimately, deciding to use or not use the Oxford comma isn’t just about grammar; it’s about what kind of person you want to be.
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