It’s the little things in life that bring real joy. A cool drink on a hot day, a favorite song on the radio, a well-placed Oxford comma. Ah, yes, the Oxford comma: grammar’s hot-button issue (you may be shocked to hear that grammatists have tempers, but oh boy—the Oxford comma gets us going). As Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, says, “There are people who embrace the Oxford comma and those who don’t, and I’ll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken.”
Here’s Why the Oxford Comma is So Contentious
The Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, is most recognizable as the little comma that comes before the “and” when you’re listing a series. That means writing “Carrots, apples, and grapes,” instead of “Carrots, apples and grapes.” A lot of businesses and newspapers choose to forgo Oxford commas because they think it looks messy and is superfluous.
Although I’ve never met any of them, some grammar folks dislike it because commas already have a reputation as the most overused punctuation in the English language. However, #TeamOxfordComma likes that the extra comma adds clarity to writing. (Here are some more debate points for you, in case you want to be well-informed on where people stand on the issue and why.)
Grammar is one of those nice things that typically has a hard and fast answer, but the Oxford comma isn’t one of them because it is a style choice. Lucky you, you get to decide if you use it. However, that being said… you should use it.
Why We Use the Oxford Comma in Our Copy (and Why You Should, Too)
While a single comma might seem like a minor detail, it can be a big deal, even for those who aren’t writers. In 2018, one company in Maine settled a lawsuit for $5 million based on a missing Oxford comma. You might be thinking “yikes,” and yeah, it’s an extreme example—but it goes to show that the Oxford comma does a lot to clarify the written language. Take this example from Grammarly:
“I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty.”
So, does that mean that your mom is Cher and your dad is an egg, or…? (If you’d like a chuckle, read this fun list of ridiculous examples of what lists say when there’s an Oxford comma, and when there isn’t.)
In the scheme of life, I think an extra comma is worth a reader’s clear understanding of the text. The IWCO Direct brand follows this standard, as well. But you’re allowed to have your own (terribly misguided) opinion. Whether you’re an Oxford comma user or not, it’s important to be consistent in your usage. That being said, if you aren’t an Oxford comma user, I’d love to know why, and politely debate you on the issue. Maybe we can get Lynne Truss to moderate.
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