• Reji Laberje

With Love, The Oxford Comma

Updated: Jul 12, 2018

Happy Valentine's Day!

This week doesn't just mark a time for LOVE on the ultimate Hallmark holiday, it marks the SECOND time in the past year when my favorite piece of punctuation . . . the Oxford Comma (also called the serial comma and, by a few people who are wrong, the Harvard comma) . . . got some love!

This past week, a multi-million dollar lawsuit was paid out because somebody left out the Oxford comma. Dairy drivers in Maine will be paid a sum of over 5 MILLION DOLLARS (that's a lotta cheese!) because two of their three duties were listed WITHOUT the Oxford comma.

"The what?" you ask.

You've seen it; I'm sure. For example:

The olympics have featured snowboarders, ski jumpers, and ice dancers.

WITH the Oxford comma after ski jumpers, the above sentence refers to three groups of people including:

  1. Snowboarders

  2. Ski Jumpers

  3. Ice Dancers

The olympics have featured snowboarders, ski jumpers and ice dancers.

WITHOUT the Oxford comma after ski jumpers, the above sentence refers to two groups of people including:

  1. Snowboarders

  2. Ice Dancing Ski Jumpers (now, that would be fun to see!)

But, I'm getting ahead of myself . . . .

Here's a little history for you. The Oxford Comma is a piece of punctuation used to separate, primarily, serial listings of three or more things that may or may NOT be related. The two common schools of thought on the Oxford Comma come from the language rules of the AP (Associated Press) and . . . EVERYBODY ELSE! The MLA (Modern Language Association), APA (American Psychological Association) and Chicago Style Guides all call for using the Oxford comma (so named for its noted usage at the famed British university).

Most news organizations use AP for their language rules, meaning all sorts of well-educated and well-meaning folks are stuck in their Oxfordless ways!

I wonder how many of them know that the whole reason the journalism industry kept out the "extra" comma was because--in the days of the printing press--an extra comma was an extra penny of production expense. (Clearly not the case, today! This practice is more ancient than double spacing after a period, but that's another rant.) I wonder how many of them know that--as soon as you state an opinion of any kind--you're no longer using AP. What are rules for but to break them, though, right? When was the last time you read an opinion-less journalism piece?

I digress. Suffice it to say I am an Oxford-Passionate and I'm not alone. In an era where language degrades a little bit more year-by-year, I have some kind of hopeless hope that the Oxford comma will become commonplace across all language usage because IT'S RIGHT!

To give you a quick breakdown of just how important this curled bit of ink is, I have designed a romantic Valentine's Day outing WITH the Oxford comma, of course!

"Let's eat chocolate, cherries, and steak."

Without the Oxford comma, you would be enjoying chocolates and a cherry-covered steak.

"We'll bond over cooking, our children, and our pets."

Just imagine taking out the full series of commas! You'd be bonding while you cook up those children and pets. Psychos!

"We'll see friends, circus acts, and Valentine ghosts!"

Without the Oxford comma, your friends are Valentine ghosts that star in circus acts.

So, tell me; would you enjoy an evening of preparing a romantic steak dinner with your husband and having chocolate and cherries for dessert, while bonding together in discussions about your children and pets, and before meeting good friends with whom you will take in a circus and ghost tour?

OR . . .

Would you prefer to cook your children and pets while chomping into cherry-covered steak before going to support your circus-performing friends (that nobody else can see, because they are ghosts)?

Depending on your answer, you should either start your own love affair with the Oxford comma, or see a therapist.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Yours in writing,



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