Even though it’s a little punctuation mark, the Oxford Comma stirs a lot of debate, and not just from grammarians. The Oxford Comma is a serial comma, or in other words the comma in a list of items denoting the second to last and last items from each other. For example:
Sally and Henry went to the store for eggs, bacon, sausage, milk, and cheese.
In journalism where every character counts, I’ve learned that the Oxford Comma is not generally used. This is because it’s believed that the sentence still makes sense without it. This stance is why some would prefer the above sentence to read:
Sally and Henry went to the store for eggs, bacon, sausage, milk and cheese.
My old boss would disagree, even though he understood the style choice. His background in technical writing put significant importance on the Oxford Comma. In his work, the serial comma was used to clarify instructions and keep everyone working together. It simplified reading, making it easier to know what the writer intended.
I personally love the Oxford Comma. I grew up using it (probably because that’s how my English teachers taught me). I’m on the side of the debate that thinks the comma makes a sentence cleaner, clearer, and polished. See what I did there? One of my beta readers thinks the same as I do. In fact, it’s her favorite punctuation.
I read an article recently about a legal case where the Oxford Comma was up for debate. The case was won because the serial comma wasn’t used in legal documentation for a Maine law on overtime protections for workers, in this case delivery drivers. In fact, according to the article, Maine legislature ignores the Oxford Comma. I wonder if that will soon change.
Who knew grammar could win you a case in court? So let that be a lesson in why you should dot every “I”, cross every “T”, and put a comma after every item in a list.
Over to you – what’s your stance on the Oxford Comma? Is it friend or foe?