Oxford Commas

Steve Breeze popped into my last post and muttered something about the serial or “Oxford” comma which was, until shortly after I read that comment, missing from the blog title. It’s a bone of contention, this penultimate comma in a list of things.

For example, is it “The grocer had carrots, rutabagas, and celery,” or “The grocer had carrots, rutabagas and celery”? Which is right? Not even copyeditors agree. For me, even though I can get emotional about some punctuational issues (if the grocer has carrot’s and rutabaga’s, I will take my business elsewhere), this one is like gun control: an issue about which I am able to take sides to the satisfaction of the divided majority. I can see both sides, and am OK either way. Take the comma or leave it.

But it seems like this is a critical question that will affect the success of this blog and the fates of us all, so please weigh in. I will play the winner. Make your arguments below.

17 thoughts on “Oxford Commas

  1. I’m British, what else can I say? I went to a school where at age twelve we spent our time parsing sentences. My English teacher was a stickler for correctly punctuating sentences. She, however, was also inspiring. I still remember forty years later the ways she screamed one day, “You have no fire of poetry in your damp little minds!” It has been my goal for all of those forty years to prove her wrong.

    • We should loath her for her treatment of children, but is it wrong to want the fire of poetry to exist in the damp little minds of children?

  2. “I’d like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

    And that is why serial commas need to exist.

    AP Style excluded them to conserve column inches, and a worse grammatical decision was never made. Lack of a serial comma destroys the meaning and comprehensibility of sentences.

    Second-worst grammatical decision: not splitting infinitives, based on the idea that Latin was the end-all, be-all of grammar and their conventions should be English’s. Unfortunately for us, Latin infinitives are single words (portare) and unable to be split, unlike English’s two-word infinitives (to carry). After all, “How not to do things” is very different from “how to not do things.”

    • “They went to Oregon with Betty, a maid, and a cook.” Is Betty a maid or not?

      It’s all situational. And people have to be pretty creative to come up with the situations that make a difference (and yeah, you can usually recast the sentence to avoid the ambiguity anyway; “I’d like to thank Ayn Rand, God and my parents.”

    • Brava! This comment wins. The refusal to split infinitives has left the sticklers without one of the great possibilities of English, a language far more diverse and artful than Latin ever was.

    • Duly noted. I backed and forth with the e, saw spell check liked it either way, and figured that was good enough for me. I am loath to pass the blame; I loathe that.

  3. BTW after I voted, I realized that I liked “What is the name of this blog?” as the name of the blog, but your survey wouldn’t accept a second suggestion.

  4. It belongs here, here, back there and not before “and,” in that “and” takes the place of the final comma.

    However, I do find the “I’d like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God” example to be hilarious. I’d absolutely double the “and” in that situation for the sake of clarity. (still chuckling)

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