The Sixth Edition: The Oxford Comma

The Nuances of Language: Editor’s Edition

“I went to the park with my dogs, George Bush and Barrack Obama.”

“I went to the park with my dogs, George Bush, and Barrack Obama.”

The above sentences differ only by one character: a comma. But they convey two completely different connotations. One simply describes one’s adventure to the park with his two dogs, aptly named George Bush and Barrack Obama; the other is about a pet owner’s walk to the park with his beloved pets and two other very special guests: the 43rd and 44th Presidents of the United States of America. This has been a hotly debated topic of argument in the world of linguistics: the usage of the Oxford comma or simply called the serial comma.

But first things first, what is an Oxford comma (which is commonly called the serial comma)?

The serial comma is simply the comma added before the last item in a list of things in a sentence, i.e., “eggs, fruits, and vegetables.” It is mostly a stylistic issue, mind you. The American Psychological Association (APA) Style and the Associated Press (AP) Style of writing do not require the usage of the serial comma, but the Chicago Manual of Style recommends its usage. Most detractors of the usage of the Oxford comma argue that a simple rephrasing of an already unclear sentence is a much better alternative than using it. This is correct, but listing a number of things is sometimes used as a means of adding a more apt description to the story or writing. Thus, the debate continues.

Focusing our energy on the argument of whether we should use the serial comma and if it is necessary or not is a waste of time and words. This argument has already moved past decades, centuries even, without ever being resolved. And it will probably stay that way for a long time, if not forever.

Let us instead see this as a testament to the ever-growing list of things that we should take note of. This goes to show just how volatile and complex the English language is. It is therefore inefficient to always feel daunted by the rules. Forego strict adherence and focus instead on the beauty of writing.

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