I’m a Believer . . . in the Oxford Comma

My story: I didn’t even know what the Oxford Comma was, but in general, I was against it.

For instance, what’s the difference between these two sentences?

Grandma sent me to the drug store to buy shampoo, toothpaste, and corn plasters.Oxford-Comma

Grandma sent me to the drug store to buy shampoo, toothpaste and corn plasters.

Eagle-eyed readers will immediately see that the difference between these two sentences is one little comma, which appears to have no particular use and adds no additional meaning.  When you are listing items in a sentence, the “and” is a signal that you’re wrapping up the list and the list does not need doesn’t need that sporty little curve with the dot at the top that looks like a tadpole with a ruptured appendix.  It’s redundant.  I hate redundancy.  I take commas out whenever they don’t appear to be needed, and if copy editors put them back in, I will sometimes (if I’m very, very sure) take them out again.

But . . . all the experts said that items in a list must be distinguished by a comma before the “and.”  Much as I hate redundancy, I hate incorrectness more.  How mortifying, to be passed over for the Newbery or National Book Award because I disdained the Oxford comma.  That’s almost like disdaining Laurence Olivier, or telling William and Kate their new baby is ugly.  (Which she isn’t.)

So I accustomed myself to using the Oxford comma without knowing the reason why.  Sometimes it’s wise to obey the rules even if you don’t understand the reason for the rules; else you may end up looking silly.  As I would have, if I persisted in my disdain and wrote something like this:

Among those interviewed were Merle Haggard’s two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall.

This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.

Highlights of Peter Ustinov’s global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800 year-old demigod and a dildo collector.*

. . . .oh.  I get it.

Adding the Oxford to items in a list is merely to distinguish it from items of attribution, such as those falsely and ignominiously attributed to Haggard’s ex-wives, parents, and Nelson Mandela.  Notice the Oxford comma in the last sentence: does it appear to be wagging its head and nodding its little head at you?  That means I told you so.

But don’t get me started on apostrophes . . . .

Or elipses . . .

* These examples have been floating around the web for a while and may be apocryphal.  Apologies to Nelson Mandela.


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One Response to “I’m a Believer . . . in the Oxford Comma”

  1. Karen Says:

    Love this! I have been a staunch fan of the Oxford comma since college. I have never given it up. Glad you agree with me!

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