A vehement defense of the Oxford comma

To quote my friend Zac, this is what I think. You’re welcome.

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Image by Nile from Pixabay

I am but a humble first-year student who has always been interested in journalism. I haven’t been able to pursue that interest for most of my life, however, because my high school didn’t have a paper. So, when I got to Muhlenberg, I was very excited to start working with The Weekly. On the Sept. 21 edition of the paper, I made my Weekly debut! I excitedly grabbed a copy off the newsstand and began reading the artist spotlight I had written. But as I read over the article, a feeling of righteous anger swept over me. In a sentence where I listed several things, I found that my Oxford comma was struck by the editors! I was censored!

If you can’t tell already this piece will contain quite a bit of sarcasm and hyperbole

Ever since then, anger has simmered within me, and I have finally found the words to express it.

If you’re not aware, the Oxford comma is a grammatical convention that is hotly debated among people like myself who spent their childhood reading instead of socializing. It occurs right before the “and” when you’re trying to list three or more things in a sentence. For example: “my favorite pieces of punctuation are the semicolon, the em dash, and the Oxford comma.”

You might never have noticed that little comma, but it gets many people rather heated. My brother, for instance, thinks it’s stupid. And I, unlike him, am correct. But why am I correct? I’m so glad you asked!

The purpose of punctuation is to keep written language clear and to indicate where you should pause within or between sentences. Without punctuation, reading anything would be much harder, and meanings would be lost in a sea of words. Now, to demonstrate my point, try saying this out loud (no, seriously, even if you’re sitting in d-hall or something): “the Oxford comma is cool, interesting, and lovely.”

First of all, thank you for saying that! I couldn’t agree more. Secondly, notice how you paused ever so slightly after “interesting.” The Oxford comma is the written expression of a natural hesitation we add in our speech to indicate the end of an idea. And if you’re reading that same list on a piece of paper, the comma makes it clear where the penultimate item ends. Simply put, the Oxford comma makes a sentence straightforward and easy to understand. Why would anyone be against its use?

But let’s be real; aside from me, who the hell cares? It’s a comma that appears in a very specific context, a concept that almost exclusively exists in English and is improper in quite a few styles of writing—including most journalistic styles, which is why The Weekly editors removed my Oxford commas. You’re probably wondering, “why is she getting so worked up over a comma?” 

I, like many of us, enjoy picking little hills to die on. The Oxford comma is one of mine (I also like to argue that water is not necessarily wet, but that’s a discussion for another day). In an age where there’s a lot of very serious things to argue about, I find it comforting to have something silly that I can passionately defend. Plus, I think it’s really important to be clear in communication, especially during a time when more than ever, our messages are text-based; on social media or over DMs, we lose the nuances of facial expression, body language and tone of voice present in face-to-face conversation. To me, the Oxford comma is a necessary part of clear communication, and it’s a piece of punctuation that I’ll continue to use all my life.

I encourage you to find something inconsequential in your life to be adamant about. Be a little stubborn—within reason, of course—and you’ll find it brings you a spark of joy. Because even if you’re non-confrontational, having strong convictions about something is, I find, calming to the mind.

And if you’re still not convinced of the greatness of the Oxford comma, just consider this: my mom uses the Oxford comma. And what are you gonna do, argue with my mom?!

The Weekly editorial team has removed all oxford commas that do not exist within examples (sorry, Emma).

2 COMMENTS

  1. Fun stuff, Emma. As a long-practicing PR guy, I have been on both sides of this fence….and can live with either. But I often question why if there are two listed items one doesn’t use a comma.
    I also see the dreaded editors even had to have the ‘last say’ in your piece. In bold, no less. 🙂

  2. Emma please punctuate this: My favorite bands are Hall and Oats Crosby Stills Nash and Young Brooks and Dunn and Emerson Lake and Palmer.

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