About ten to fifteen years ago, another writer posted online about their dismay when editing writers and realizing they had not caught onto the anti-Oxford comma update. This is someone I grew up with in Jersey City and he was very intelligent. I had seen the trend happen on a few sites, and I had a few freelancing assignments that required the fateful comma drop. I almost always disagreed and made an editor do it for me. Maybe my youthful lack of wisdom was taking a stand. It felt as if people heard a new rule and did not process any logic while obeying it.
Most of my writing includes the Oxford comma. Every once in a while, you’ll find something from me that lacks it, and it’s a result of the debate described in the above paragraph. For a long time, I did not know what to do – use it or not use it. One time, I had an editor get upset when they had to correct my Oxford commas for the third time. It was not long before I left that specific assignment. I do not do well with entities that disrespect language and clarity in communication.
I am “flowery” and wordy enough in my writing. I’m a poet. English already has many words with double entendre and confusing translations into other languages. This battle against a simple punctuation annoyed me then and annoys me now. Maybe it bothers me more since so many people who are anti-Oxford will get super condescending against those of us who still use it. It’s really become the dinosaur-tracking tool of the literary world!
What is the Oxford comma?
The Oxford comma is simply a comma – the punctuation that separates items in a list or adds clarity within a complex sentence. The Oxford comma often serves an itemizing function. I’ll give you a few examples below:
The car is big, new, and blue.
The second comma is the Oxford comma.
My family loves music from The Doors, The Police, and the Beatles.
Jane, Bob, and I are going to the fair, restaurant, and home tonight.
Those who prefer a lack of Oxford comma insist that the meaning of the sentence does not change – that the Oxford interrupts the flow of the voice. They would want the above sentences to look more like this:
The car is big, new and blue. My family loves music from The Doors, The Police and The Beatles. Jane, Bob and I are going to the fair, restaurant and home tonight.
When it comes to simple sentences, they are right. Not much changes with or without the Oxford comma. However, I would argue that a tiny tidbit of confusion has entered the conversation when we revisit the meaning of our second sentence.
My family loves music from The Doors, The Police and The Beatles. If you and I did not have common knowledge understanding about these band names, we would see this sentence and note that the “and” is missing before “The Police,” and we would conclude that there was a band going around by the name of The Police and The Beatles. This is why I use the Oxford comma. I don’t want to assume the reader’s understanding, and I definitely don’t want to create an expiration date in my writing. What do I mean by an expiration date? Well, in years to come, will it still be common knowledge to understand I meant three separate bands? Maybe. Maybe not. Punctuation adds clarity.
The part that gets me is that in proper writing – published books, fixed website pages, and other types of content platforms – we don’t usually write in simple sentences. Once you get a complex thought going, the Oxford comma can make or break the clarity of that point.
I love to eat international cuisine at home, such as, Coq au vin, Carbonara, Bandeja Paisa and Sushi with Fresh Ginger.
Without the Oxford comma, we just ruined Colombian and Japanese food while simultaneously getting a horrible tummy ache. For as long as sentences like the one above exist and can border on the ridiculous, I will always use the Oxford comma. There’s no practical purpose to enable confusion in written communication.
Use that comma! 😉