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A Satirical Ode To The Oxford Comma

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Brenda Robinson
Brenda Robinson
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    United States
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  • Age:
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April 1, 2022

2:41 am

brenda

A piece dedicated to Lyft, valiant supporters of the Oxford comma. 

To quote the Vampire Weekend’s opening line of the song ‘Oxford Comma’ from their 2008 debut album, “Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?”. Fourteen years later, everyone on the internet seems to give a shit-ton of fucks about the punctuation mark. Buzzfeed has countless pieces of content about the Oxford comma. Twitter users consistently make their case for Oxford comma usage. There’s a space on Reddit just to discuss the punctuation mark, and Etsy sellers worldwide make literal bank from stickers, t-shirts, mugs, and more. Even potential Tinder matches are at risk depending on your usage of the Oxford comma. It’s safe to say that the Oxford comma has a large fanbase that gives even One Direction a run for their money.

But why does literally the entire world care so much about some comma, you might ask? Let’s start by defining what the Oxford comma even is. The Oxford comma, AKA the serial comma, is placed before the conjunction in a list of three or more items in a sentence. Fellow comma supporters think it prevents ambiguity and provides clarity to a sentence because it separates related but not synonymous words. The goal of many writing pieces is to display the central topic in the most straightforward way possible, and the Oxford comma is a valuable little punctuation mark to accomplish that. All great writers use the Oxford comma, yet the Associated Press (AP) is still adamant about excluding it from the grammar guidebook. 

The Battle of the Oxford Comma began in 2017 when AP released an updated version of their stylebooks that deemed the Oxford comma unnecessary. Many people, including many journalists and magazine publishers, agree that they shouldn’t be required to use it. Why don’t they use it? War opponents claim that it makes a piece of writing sound stuffy and pretentious, cluttering and redundant, and space-consuming on pages. Many also think that if adequate conjunctions are used in sentences, there really isn’t a need for a comma. 

Journalists specifically care about the Oxford comma because… Well, let’s put it this way: Most reputable newspapers and publications insist on reporters writing in AP style; however, since ‘necessity’ is questionable and the continuity of previous content pieces is essential, most editors do not allow the Oxford comma. By adopting the Oxford comma as an official grammatical structure, AP style would enable thousands of reporters to practice the grammar they learned from their state curriculums. Additionally, publications need to adhere to AP style, even if it means applying illogical and outdated ‘grammar’ to their work, since the NSPA and CSPA honor publications that adhere to it. Basically, AP is steering this war.

Let’s also touch on the AP stylebook’s lack of ‘acceptable usage’ guidelines for the Oxford comma. While they claim it should only be used when necessary for clarity, the purpose of using the serial comma is to provide clarity when listing items, so the logic of the transitive property says the Oxford comma should always be used. AP would be better off denying outright the use of the Oxford comma in any situation, although it is illogical. Their confusion about the concept of ‘necessity’ has undermined their stance on the issue.

In my opinion and the opinion of many others on the internet, style is fundamental to creating quality work, but how could the placement of a tiny comma in your writing be stuffy or pretentious? Authors can already individualize their work through diction, tone, syntax, imagery, and rhetoric, which are the avenues people notice and analyze (hello, Sparknotes!). Also, what professional has ever claimed that altering one’s use of commas will make an audience swoon? 

The Oxford comma is a heavenly gift from the grammar gods to journalists everywhere, but the AP demons have chosen to withhold such a gift to maintain control and popularity during the evolution of language. It now remains if society is ready to practice good grammar, common sense, and overall better writing. But are we ready to finish this war and confront AP? The law, the people, and even the all-knowing hive-mind of Twitter have all decided to side with the Oxford comma. (Imagine that last sentence without the Oxford comma. It’s sad, isn’t it?).

Posted in B2C, Opinion
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